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Feature 30 Jun 17

Romania’s Reagan Square Builds on Balkan Tradition

The Romanian capital is continuing the Balkan tradition of naming landmarks after US Presidents as Bucharest City Hall votes to inaugurate Ronald Reagan Square next to the government building.

Ana Maria Touma, Fatjona Mejdini
BIRN
Bucharest, Tirana
The Ronald Reagans Square the Bucharest City Hall is planning to inaugurate is located on the left side of Victoria Palace, the government headquarters. Photo: Korinna/Wikimedia Commons.

Bucharest is to get its own Ronald Reagan Square - the latest city in Eastern Europe and the Balkan to name a landmark after a US president who played an important role in its history.

The former US President from 1981 to 1989 will lend his name to a square near the government building, with Bucharest Mayor Gabriela Firea pushing to erect a statue of the 40th US president as well.

Bucharest thus follows in the footsteps of the Hungarian capital, Budapest, and of Warsaw in Poland and, since this May, Sofia in neighboring Bulgaria.

The local authorities there have erected a statue in memory of the US president whose tough line towards the Soviet Union during the Cold War is accredited with hastening the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe.

Reagan is not the only American President with his own street, square or statue in Eastern Europe and the Balkans, of course.

Benjamin Franklin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton, George Bush and even the late son of former Vice-President Joe Biden have all lent their names to sites around the Balkans.

Bucharest, for instance, also has a Benjamin Franklin street and up until 1960 also had a Wilson Street.

The Wilson Building in central Bucharest still stands in part, although it was almost destroyed in a devastating earthquake in March 1977.

Roosevelt has a street named after him in Cluj Napoca, in Transylvania, while Oradea, in northwestern Romania on the border with Hungary, has one named after Washington.

Reagan is by far the most popular US president in Eastern Europe, however, when it comes to names.

A bust of the actor-turned-president was unveiled in May 2017 in Sofia’s South Park, where an alley was also named after him in 2011, marking the centenary of his birth.

US Ambassador to Bulgaria Eric S. Rubin at the inauguration of Ronald Reagan's bust in May 2017. Photo: bg.usembassy.gov

Many Bulgarians, like Romanians, Poles and Hungarians credit Reagan with assisting the fall of communism in their country and abroad.

However, not all Bulgarians are fans. Just nine days after the bust was inaugurated in South Park, where anti-communist activists used to gather before 1989, a red stocking was pulled over the bronze head, the face was painted as a vampire, while the statue and the marble were smudged in white.

Local analysts blamed that act on die-hard Communists whose popularity is growing in Bulgaria. “The growing popularity of Communists [and of other extremists disposed to Nazism] is on the rise in Bulgaria. In a strange twist, due to the better life that Reagan’s ideas brought about, there is a growing trend among Bulgarians of forgetting the misfortunes of the past,” wrote Krassen Stanchev a professor at Sofia University in Bulgaria.

Stanchev, a former anti-communist activist, remains a Reagan admirer. “Democracy, a firmer commitment to the rule of law, economic prosperity and mobility, and the growing religious freedom at the heart of every free Western society – can be traced to the courageous actions of Ronald Reagan,” he said.

“Those involved who lived through those days will never forget him. Now, this monument in Sofia’s South Park assures that future generations will remember his role in their religious, political, and economic freedom, as well,” he concluded.

The capital of Albania, meanwhile has a Wilson Square, next to the former Bllok area, a former residential area for Communist Party members, currently filled with cafés and restaurants.

Wison Square in Tirana, Albania. Photo: Shkelzen Rexha/Wikimedia Commons.

Wilson played an important role in protecting Albania’s territorial integrity at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 after World War I. Albanians feel grateful to him for dismissing a plan by the European powers to divide Albania among its neighbours, which is why, marking the first century of Albania’s independence, a statue of Wilson was unveiled in the square in 2012. 

Tirana is also host to a George W. Bush Street, which the City Council named in 2007, days before Bush’s visit to Albania. Bush not only left behind a street named after him in the capital.

Former US President George W. Bush's statue in Fushe Kruja, Albania, inaugurated on his 65th birthday in 2011. Photo:RobGeul/Wikimedia Commons.

In 2011, a tiny village that Bush visited in 2007 unveiled a statue of him, in a square named also after him. The 2.85 metre-high statue of Bush raising his left hand in greeting was unveiled by Albania’s then Prime Minister, Sali Berisha.

In Kosovo, which borders Albania, naming streets after US presidents and US officials that played a role in shaping its destiny has become something of a tradition.  

Bill Clinton's statue in Pristina, Kosovo. Photo: Arial Selmani/Wikimedia Commons.

A statue of former president Bill Clinton was inaugurated in 2009 on a boulevard also dedicated to him, to thank him for taking action to stop Serbia’s war against the Kosovo Albanians. Clinton himself was present at the inauguration.

An avenue in Pristina is named after former George W. Bush and many others around the country celebrate other US politicians and army generals.

The most recent is a street named after former US vice-president Joe Biden’s late son, Beau, who worked in Kosovo after the independence war ended in 1999 and helped to train magistrates. He died in 2015 of cancer.

Belgrade has been less enthusiastic when it comes to naming streets and landmarks after US Presidents, reflecting the Serbs’ more nuanced view of Americans.

However, Belgrade has a John F. Kennedy street, between Nikola Tesla Boulevard and Tosin Bunar Street. The city is also host to a discrete street named after George Washington. 

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