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UKRAINIAN GOVERNMENTAL DELEGATION IN MINSK. A delegation headed by Ukrainian Deputy Premier Vasyl Rohovyy visited Minsk on 15-16 November for economic talks and the signing of two accords on cooperation between the central banks of both countries. Belarusian Television reported that the sides also touched upon the problem of Ukraine's Soviet-era debt to Belarus, but provided no details. A Belarusian-Ukrainian governmental commission is expected to tackle this problem at a meeting in Chernihiv in mid-December. JM

RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR ASSURES KYIV OF WARM RELATIONS. Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Viktor Chernomyrdin told the Kyiv-based ICTV television on 18 November that Russian-Ukrainian relations will not suffer as a result of improved bilateral relations between the U.S. and Russia in their new cooperation against international terrorism. Regarding Russian plans to build a gas pipeline bypassing Ukraine, Chernomyrdin noted that other pipelines will indeed be built, but added that none of them will be have a throughput capacity comparable to that of existing Ukrainian pipelines. JM

UKRAINIAN NUCLEAR POWER CONTAMINATES RIVER. The management of the Rivne nuclear power plant in western Ukraine confirmed on 17 November that transformer oil leaking from the plant's reactor has contaminated the local river Styr, ITAR-TASS reported. Because of a malfunction in the reactor, personnel drained the oil in rainy weather. As a result, more than 20 kilograms of oil were washed away into a sewage system and then into the Styr. JM

MOLDOVA, UKRAINE FAIL TO SOLVE BORDER CHECKPOINTS ISSUE. Ukrainian Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh and his Moldovan counterpart, Vasile Tarlev, signed an agreement in Kyiv on 17 November on the passage of goods through five checkpoints at their border, but failed to reach an agreement on the joint checkpoints at the border with Transdniester, ITAR-TASS reported. They instructed experts to work further to reach an agreement on the two checkpoints at that border within 15 days. Flux said that the negotiations on this issue "have failed." MS

PARVANOV WINS BULGARIAN PRESIDENTIAL CONTEST. Georgi Parvanov, leader of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, won the 18 November presidential runoff and outgoing President Petar Stoyanov conceded defeat, international agencies reported. All six polling agencies that produced exit polls identified Parvanov as the victor, with a figure of between 51.9 and 56 percent of the vote. Provisional official results give Parvanov 53 percent and Stoyanov 47. Full results are due on 20 November. Turnout was about 54.6 percent. Parvanov pledged to "work for continuity and speed up Bulgaria's progress toward membership of EU and NATO." But he also said it is "extremely important" for Bulgaria to revive its relations with Russia, Ukraine, and other "strategic partners." Stoyanov said he "made many mistakes" in the campaign, and that it had been "difficult for me to convince people that I have succeeded as president when their lives are poor." Arguments about European and Atlantic integration, he said, "seem wrong when someone has nothing to eat." MS

On 5 November Romania's tourism minister, Matei Agathon Dan, launched the "Dracula Park" project -- a $31 million theme park to be built in central Transylvania. Officials say the park, which is to be completed over the next two years, will attract millions of tourists and revive a region plagued by chronic poverty and unemployment. But the park, which is being built near a medieval town on UNESCO's world heritage list, has already attracted criticism from environmentalists and architects, and has prompted a counter initiative by the political opposition.

Dracula Park, which will occupy a hilly 130-hectare plot near the town of Sighisoara, will be built by the German company Westernstadt Pullman City, which operates an American Wild West theme park in Germany. The park, based on the half-real, half-fictitious Dracula character, will feature amusement rides, a castle wired with spooky effects, a maze garden, restaurants, shops, and hotels, all encircled by a miniature train line. It will also host a more-or-less-serious international center for vampirology. Tourism Minister Dan said that despite being based on a vampire character, the project will not be a horror show but rather a tongue-in-cheek theme park meant for family entertainment.

Funding for the project will come from the state budget as well as from an initial public offering of shares (IPO) expected to raise some $5 million. "With the money from the shares, we will begin work on the project," Dan said. "By the fall of next year, at least two objectives will be completed: the Dracula Castle and the vampirology institute. The foundation will also be completed for the remainder of the park."

The project marks a turn in the way Romania is viewing the Dracula character popularized by Irish author Bram Stoker in his 19th-century best-seller and later depicted in hundreds of horror movies.

For decades, Romanian communist officials tried to counter the Western image of Count Dracula -- the Transylvanian vampire whose bloodcovered fangs have become a Hollywood trademark -- with their own homegrown hero, the cruel-but-brave Prince Vlad Draculea, the terror of Turkish invaders.

Stoker was indeed inspired by the real-life Romanian prince when he wrote his novel. But Stoker himself never set foot in Transylvania, and his book is a melange of fantasy and more-or-less accurate historical fact.

Known to Romanians as Vlad the Impaler because of his penchant for impaling invaders and personal enemies, the real Draculea was born in Sighisoara in 1431 and ruled the principality of Wallachia on three separate occasions.

Vlad fought against Turkish invaders and distinguished himself through acts of both bravery and gruesome cruelty. He is said to have impaled an entire Turkish army on one occasion and to have driven nails through the heads of Turkish messengers.

His defenders, however, point to Vlad's success in ridding the country of thieves and intruders, and say cruelty was the norm rather than the exception during the Middle Ages. Vlad, in fact, was reputed to have acquired a taste for cruelty at the Turkish Sultan's court.

According to Romanian historians, Vlad's surname, Draculea, meant "son of the dragon" -- a reference to his father, Vlad Dracul, who had been invested with the knightly Order of the Dragon. But "drac," the old Romanian word for dragon, also means devil, and some say Vlad got his name in recognition of his devilish cruelty.

Dracula was turned into a Western pop-culture icon in the 1930s in a series of Hollywood movies loosely based on Stoker's book and starring Transylvanian-born actor Bela Lugosi.

Romanian communist officials, irked by what they perceived as Western defamation of one of the country's heroes, tried to counterbalance the Dracula myth with books and movies of their own depicting a patriotic Vlad defending Europe from Turkish invaders.

After the fall of communism, however, Romanians were quick to realize that Dracula the Vampire was a potential gold mine, while Vlad the Impaler was better relegated to the history books.

Despite considerable tourism potential, postcommunist Romania failed to attract foreigners in large numbers due to a lack of promotion and Western-standard infrastructure. Only some 3 million foreigners visited Romania last year -- compared to 15 million visitors to neighboring Hungary.

A whole tourist industry based on the Hollywood-style Dracula began to grow in Romania, bolstered by Director Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 Hollywood blockbuster, which for the first time attempted to bring more accurate historical background to Stoker's story.

But Romanians soon learned that the U.S.-based Universal Studios, which produced the original vampire movies, had the copyright on Dracula's image.

To avoid paying royalties, Tourism Minister Dan said Dracula Park will not use the traditional image of the vampire. "I do not agree with depicting Dracula's classic image in the park -- with black cloak, bloody long teeth, and a powdered face, as his image is generally perceived," Dan said. "We have architects [and] designers who are already working on a different image. But we have already launched the park's slogan, which is simple and suggestive: 'Welcome Forever.'"

The project is expected to create some 3,000 jobs in Sighisoara, a city of 38,000 where the unemployment rate reaches as high as 50 percent. Already, property prices have soared and new hotels are being built.

But in Sighisoara, Dracula Park has met unexpected opposition from the very locals supposed to benefit most from it.

A 200-member civil-rights group consisting of environmentalists, artists, and even priests from Sighisoara is protesting the creation of the park, which they say will be built on the site of one of the country's oldest oak forests and will place huge pressure on the old town, whose 13th-century center is on UNESCO's world heritage list. "If the park proves viable and attracts the number of tourists that the feasibility studies envisage, the pressure on the environment in the whole Sighisoara area will be very tough," said Alexandru Got, the leader of the protest group. "I personally believe environmental NGOs should request a detailed study on the effects of such a park on the Breite Plateau [oak forest] and its surroundings."

Romanian officials said the oaks will not be destroyed and will actually be part of the park's attractions. But Gota said infrastructure work such as plumbing and road building will inevitably affect the trees.

Some architects are also against the park, which is expected to bring more than 1 million visitors per year. They say its location near Sighisoara will put the historic city in great danger.

But Tourism Minister Dan said that, in many similar tourist areas of Europe and even Romania, the daily number of tourists is larger that the 3,000 people expected to visit Dracula Park on any given day. He pointed out that the park is six kilometers away from Sighisoara's Old Town. "I am not building a new Chernobyl or a steel works there that could harm the environment," Dan said.

Dan also said that a large share of the profits from the park -- estimated at nearly $3 million per year -- will go to the local budget and will fund the restoration of the old town.

But critics say profit expectations are overly optimistic. In a country where the average monthly income is about $100, not many Romanians are likely to pay the $5 admission to visit Dracula Park.

Furthermore, since the legend of Dracula the Vampire remains a foreign concept for many Romanians, the success of the project will most likely rely on whether it can attract Western tourists.

On 12 November, the opposition National Liberal Party (PNL) unexpectedly came up with its own counter-initiative. The PNL proposed that the park be located near the Bran castle, in the vicinity of Brasov, which is popularly known as Vlad's (and hence Dracula's) home. And they said "their" park will cost only half as much as that proposed by Agathon -- $18 million. Agathon denounced the initiative as "immensely foolish" and said he would consider suing the PNL for using for the park a name similar to that he proposed, i.e. the "Dracula Rasnov Brasov Transylvania Park." One wonders how Vlad the Impaler would have reacted. Meanwhile, the daily "Evenimentul zilei" ironically wrote that the Romanians "cannot make Swiss watches, American films, Russian bombers, or German cars," but they could try "building Dracula parks and exporting Dracula dolls throughout the world."