Tag Archives: Romania

Romanian Firms Lead South-East Europe

The largest oil companies and banks in south-east Europe are based in Romania, according to an independent ranking of the top 100 firms in the region.

For the seventh consecutive year, Romanian oil and gas company OMV Petrom, majority owned by Austria’s OMV, is the biggest company in south-east Europe, according to the ranking for 2013 published by SeeNews agency.

OMV Petrom claimed the top spot despite a drop in revenues by nearly three per cent to 4.27 billion euro in 2013. 

At the same time, however, its net profit rose to 1.08 billion euro, the highest among the top 100 companies in south-east Europe.

Oil and gas companies continued to dominate the annual SeeNews rankings and to generate the bulk of total revenue, although this decreased by 5.45 per cent to 41.8 billion euro in 2013, and their total profit fell to 659 million euro from 1.09 billion euro.

Romania, the biggest market in the region, expanded its domination of the rankings, with 53 companies on the 2013 list, up from 51 a year earlier.

Despite a 10 per cent drop in assets to 14.16 billion euro, Romania’s Banca Comerciala Romana, a part of Austria’s Erste, was rated the biggest bank in the region for the fourth year in a row.

Croatia’s Zagrebacka Banka ranked second and another Romanian bank, BRD-Groupe Societe Generale, was third. A total of 38 banks in the rankings saw their assets decline in 2013.

Slovenia’s Zavarovalnica Triglav kept the mantle of the region’s biggest insurer in 2013 despite a 6.46 per cent decline in gross written premiums to 605.8 million euro.

The slow economic recovery in the European Union, the main trading partner forcountries in south-east Europe, the sluggish prospects facing most economies in the region and shrunken domestic demand all left their mark on corporate bottom lines in 2013.

At the same time, long overdue structural reforms, fiscal and regulatory volatility and poor infrastructure continued to be a drag on local businesses.

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Romania Jails Senior Politicians For Fraud

A Romanian court jailed an MP and a former minister for manipulating the stock exchange in what is seen as an important test case.

Romania’s appeals court on Tuesday jailed a senator, Sorin Rosca Stanescu, for two years and four months for his involvement in a case seen as a test of Romania’s ability to conduct high-level corruption trials.

Stanescu was found guilty of using privileged information and manipulating the stock exchange by underselling shares in the oil company Rompetrol and then buying them back.

Six other people, including former Communication Minister Sorin Pantis, were also jailed for the involvement in the crime. Pantis, who is already in jail for money laundering, is to serve two years and eight months.

On 7 April 2004, Rompetrol – Romania’s second largest oil group – was listed on the Bucharest Stock Exchange. More than 2 billion shares were traded that day. Some friends of Dinu Patriciu, the then owner of the company, including politicians, bought shares at very low prices only to sell them later for big profits.

Officials of the former capital market supervisory authority CNVM were also indicted in this case as accessories to capital market manipulation, as they closed their eyes to these transactions. All have been given jail sentences with parole.

Dinu Patriciu died in August, aged 64. Prosecutors had sought a 20-year jail sentence for Patriciu, as he orchestrated the stock market listing, but he was never convicted.

Patriciu sold his stake in Rompetrol in 2008 to Kazakhstan’s state-owned energy operator KazMunaiGaz for around 2.7 billion dollars, according to media reports.

A photographer has spent 3 years taking pictures of women to see how beauty is defined around the world

In 2013, 30-year-old photographer Mihaela Noroc quit her job in Romania to backpack around the world full time.

Since then, she has visited every continent except for Antarctica and a total of about 50 countries, photographing hundreds of women along the way for her project, dubbed Atlas of Beauty.

And she’s still going.

More than ever, I think our world needs an Atlas of Beauty to show that diversity is something beautiful, not a reason for conflict,” Noroc explains to Tech Insider. “I hope that the portraits from The Atlas of Beauty can challenge many misconceptions that exist around the world.”

Noroc’s proficiency in five languages helps her speak with subjects either on the street or in their homes, but sometimes she relies on translators or body language alone to communicate.

Currently, she’s looking for funding to continue her journey, and hopes by 2017 to have enough images to publish a book.

You can follow Noroc’s trip and view more work on her Facebook, Instagram and Tumblraccounts. Keep scrolling to see more of her amazing images.

This is Mihaela Noroc posing in Bogotá, Colombia. The 30-year-old photographer travels the world taking photographs of women from different cultures.

Noroc has spent three years traveling for her “Atlas of Beauty” series. This woman was photographed on the streets of Moldova.

Noroc has spent three years traveling for her "Atlas of Beauty" series. This woman was photographed on the streets of Moldova.

Courtesy of Mihaela Noroc

“I walk hours every day, in very different environments and I try to find relevant faces and stories for each place,” Noroc tells Tech Insider. This woman was in Peru.

"I walk hours every day, in very different environments and I try to find relevant faces and stories for each place," Noroc tells Tech Insider. This woman was in Peru.

Courtesy of Mihaela Noroc

She also finds subjects online. Sometimes she’s invited back to their homes. Here, an Ecuadorian woman in her living room.

She also finds subjects online. Sometimes she's invited back to their homes. Here, an Ecuadorian woman in her living room.

Courtesy of Mihaela Noroc

This woman is a market seller from Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

This woman is a market seller from Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

Courtesy of Mihaela Noroc

Noroc photographed women in the Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan. “Although they live in a rough and isolated environment, Wakhi people are amazingly welcoming and friendly,” Noroc says.

Noroc photographed women in the Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan. "Although they live in a rough and isolated environment, Wakhi people are amazingly welcoming and friendly," Noroc says.

Courtesy of Mihaela Noroc

So far, Noroc has been to around 50 countries. Here, a woman smiles in Omo Valley, Ethiopia.

So far, Noroc has been to around 50 countries. Here, a woman smiles in Omo Valley, Ethiopia.

Courtesy of Mihaela Noroc

She tries to capture each woman in her surroundings. This woman was snapped in Thorunn, Iceland.

She tries to capture each woman in her surroundings. This woman was snapped in Thorunn, Iceland.

Courtesy of Mihaela Noroc

“I prefer to photograph natural faces, without a lot of make-up,” Noroc says. Here, a woman sits at a tea house in Istanbul, Turkey.

"I prefer to photograph natural faces, without a lot of make-up," Noroc says. Here, a woman sits at a tea house in Istanbul, Turkey.

Courtesy of Mihaela Noroc

Noroc says this Ethiopian woman is a Muslim, but her best friend is Christian. “While traveling in Ethiopia in February, I admired the way Christians and Muslims got along,” she says. “But in the same country, there are dozens of terrible ethnic conflicts.”

Noroc says this Ethiopian woman is a Muslim, but her best friend is Christian. "While traveling in Ethiopia in February, I admired the way Christians and Muslims got along," she says. "But in the same country, there are dozens of terrible ethnic conflicts."

Courtesy of Mihaela Noroc

Noroc visited Kichwa, Ecuador in the Amazon Rainforest and took pictures of the women there.

Noroc visited Kichwa, Ecuador in the Amazon Rainforest and took pictures of the women there.

Courtesy of Mihaela Noroc

She has been expanding her project to include a wider range and diversity of subjects, both old and young. This picture was taken in Bukhara, Uzbekistan.

She has been expanding her project to include a wider range and diversity of subjects, both old and young. This picture was taken in Bukhara, Uzbekistan.

Courtesy of Mihaela Noroc

“In some countries I approach 10 women and maybe only one accepts,” she says. “In other places, everybody accepts.” This was in Maori, New Zealand.

"In some countries I approach 10 women and maybe only one accepts," she says. "In other places, everybody accepts." This was in Maori, New Zealand.

Courtesy of Mihaela Noroc

“Usually, in Western countries, I’m never refused [when I ask to take a picture],” Noroc says. This woman poses in Harlem, New York.

"Usually, in Western countries, I'm never refused [when I ask to take a picture]," Noroc says. This woman poses in Harlem, New York.

Courtesy of Mihaela Noroc

An Uzbek woman in Kyrgyzstan.

An Uzbek woman in Kyrgyzstan.

Courtesy of Mihaela Noroc

Here, a Buddhist nun poses in Kathmandu, Nepal.

 Here, a Buddhist nun poses in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Courtesy of Mihaela Noroc

Noroc photographed this woman in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

Noroc photographed this woman in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

Courtesy of Mihaela Noroc

This woman is a computer engineer from Cairo, Egypt.

This woman is a computer engineer from Cairo, Egypt.

Courtesy of Mihaela Noroc

Traveling across the Java Sea in Indonesia.

Traveling across the Java Sea in Indonesia.

Courtesy of Mihaela Noroc

Going to North Korea was like “stepping [onto] a totally different planet, with different rules,” Noroc says. This woman was photographed in Pyongyang, North Korea.

Going to North Korea was like "stepping [onto] a totally different planet, with different rules," Noroc says. This woman was photographed in Pyongyang, North Korea.

Courtesy of Mihaela Noroc

This woman was spotted in Sofia, Bulgaria.

This woman was spotted in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Courtesy of Mihaela Noroc

Noroc says this woman in Guangzhou, China, was on her way to the hospital with her mother and husband to give birth.

Noroc says this woman in Guangzhou, China, was on her way to the hospital with her mother and husband to give birth.

Courtesy of Mihaela Noroc

A woman standing on a pier in the Baltic Sea, Finland.

A woman standing on a pier in the Baltic Sea, Finland.

Courtesy of Mihaela Noroc

A painter, in her studio in Valparaiso, Chile.

A painter, in her studio in Valparaiso, Chile.

Courtesy of Mihaela Noroc

A woman poses on the streets of Havana, Cuba.

A woman poses on the streets of Havana, Cuba.

Courtesy of Mihaela Noroc

A ballerina displays her talent in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

 A ballerina displays her talent in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

Courtesy of Mihaela Noroc

“For me, beauty is diversity, [it’s] what makes us unique,” Noroc says. “I also believe that beauty can teach us to be more tolerant.” Below, a woman in the streets of Iran.

"For me, beauty is diversity, [it's] what makes us unique," Noroc says. "I also believe that beauty can teach us to be more tolerant." Below, a woman in the streets of Iran.

Courtesy of Mihaela Noroc

A young woman in Cape Town, South Africa.

A young woman in Cape Town, South Africa.

Courtesy of Mihaela Noroc

A woman in Oxford, UK.

A woman in Oxford, UK.

Courtesy of Mihaela Noroc

Wearing traditional dress in Otavalo, Ecuador.

Wearing traditional dress in Otavalo, Ecuador.

Courtesy of Mihaela Noroc

“[In India] I photographed subjects from very different environments,” Noroc tells Tech Insider. “From poor women living in slums to Sonam Kapoor, one of the most popular Indian actresses.” Here, an Indian woman poses at a train station.

"[In India] I photographed subjects from very different environments," Noroc tells Tech Insider. "From poor women living in slums to Sonam Kapoor, one of the most popular Indian actresses." Here, an Indian woman poses at a train station.

Courtesy of Mihaela Noroc

A young woman in Medellin, Colombia.

A young woman in Medellin, Colombia.

Courtesy of Mihaela Noroc

“Many people tell me how the project changed the way they see beauty and diversity,” Noroc tells Tech Insider. A woman on the streets of Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

"Many people tell me how the project changed the way they see beauty and diversity," Noroc tells Tech Insider. A woman on the streets of Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

Courtesy of Mihaela Noroc

But her project has received criticism for showing a narrow a definition of beauty. “There is also negative feedback sometimes, but you have to accept it, even if you find it unfair,” she says. Below, a redheaded woman posing in San Francisco, USA.

But her project has received criticism for showing a narrow a definition of beauty. "There is also negative feedback sometimes, but you have to accept it, even if you find it unfair," she says. Below, a redheaded woman posing in San Francisco, USA.

Courtesy of Mihaela Noroc

“The internet can make you very popular but also very exposed to different opinions,” she says. “Which is not bad, in the end.” A blond woman outside a home in Latvia.

"The internet can make you very popular but also very exposed to different opinions," she says. "Which is not bad, in the end." A blond woman outside a home in Latvia.

Courtesy of Mihaela Noroc

A Tibetan woman in the Sichuan Province, China.

A Tibetan woman in the Sichuan Province, China.

Courtesy of Mihaela Noroc

A mother and her son pose in Australia.

A mother and her son pose in Australia.

Courtesy of Mihaela Noroc

Noroc hopes to publish an Atlas of Beauty book after another year of traveling. This woman was photographed in Rio de Janeiro.

Noroc hopes to publish an Atlas of Beauty book after another year of traveling. This woman was photographed in Rio de Janeiro.

Courtesy of Mihaela Noroc

“There is much more diversity in the world, waiting for me, and I love to discover it. It’s an infinite treasure,” she says. Below, a woman in Myanmar.

"There is much more diversity in the world, waiting for me, and I love to discover it. It's an infinite treasure," she says. Below, a woman in Myanmar.

Courtesy of Mihaela Noroc

Noroc also traveled around her home country of Romania. Here, a ceramic art student in a workshop in Cluj, Romania.

Noroc also traveled around her home country of Romania. Here, a ceramic art student in a workshop in Cluj, Romania.

Courtesy of Mihaela Noroc

Noroc plans to continue to travel the world with just her backpack and camera. Her next stop? Greece.

Noroc plans to continue to travel the world with just her backpack and camera. Her next stop? Greece.

Courtesy of Mihaela Noroc

You can follow her journey and view more of her work on her Facebook page as well as herInstagram and Tumblr accounts.

Oligarchs of Eastern Europe Scoop Up Stakes in Media Companies

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Across Eastern Europe, local oligarchs and investment groups — some directly connected to their countries’ political leadership — are snapping up newspapers and other media companies, prompting deep concerns among journalists and others about press freedom.

It is just one of an array of developments across the region raising questions, a quarter century after the fall of the Berlin Wall, about progress toward Western standards of democracy and free speech.

As in Russia, there are increasing worries about a potentially dangerous concentration of power in the hands of people who have managed to acquire both wealth and political influence and are increasingly extending their control to media outlets.

Here in Slovakia, a German media company sold a substantial stake in the nation’s last serious, independent newspaper to a well-connected investment group that had been among its investigative targets.

At a time of similar developments across the region, what stood out in the investment in Petit Press and its prominent SME flagship newspaper by the group, Penta Investments, was the reaction of the paper’s staff.

Matus Kostolny, 39, editor in chief for the last eight years, walked out the door. Four of his deputies followed. And 50 members of the paper’s 80-person staff submitted notice to leave by the end of the year.

“I think Penta intends to misuse the newspapers for their own purposes,” Mr. Kostolny said. “Their idea of free speech is entirely different from mine.”

But the situation in Slovakia is just the latest in which owners, often Western European or American, have chosen to sell Eastern European media properties and powerful local interests have stepped forward and snapped them up.

Andrej Babis, an agriculture and fertilizer tycoon, not only owns the Czech Republic’s largest publishing house and several important media outlets, he is the government’s minister of finance.

In Latvia, opaque disclosure laws obscured who controlled much of the country’s news media until a corruption investigation of one of the country’s richest businessmen revealed that he and two other oligarchs were the principal owners.

In Hungary, beyond outright state ownership of much of the news media, top associates of Prime Minister Viktor Orban control significant chunks. Chief among them is Lajos Simicska, who went to school with the prime minister and whose construction company has profited lavishly from state contracts, although the two are said to be feuding of late.

In Romania, the leading television news station, the right-wing Antena 3, is only part of the vast media empire owned by the billionaire Dan Voiculescu, the founder of the country’s Conservative Party. In August, Mr. Voiculescu was sentenced to 10 years in prison on money laundering charges.

Several oligarchs control the media companies in Bulgaria, regularly ranked in last place among European Union nations in the World Press Freedom Index. That includes a former lawmaker, Delyan Peevski, whose New Bulgarian Media Group — ostensibly controlled by his mother, though opponents charge that he holds the real power — has been closely linked to governments controlled by several parties.

In the 1990s, after the collapse of Communism, most media outlets were either owned outright by the state or utterly dependent on government advertising. When foreign owners — most notably from Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States — subsequently bought up local newspapers, magazines and broadcast outlets, journalists found that the distant owners had no interest in local politics. That was a relief for a time.

“For us, it was perfect,” Mr. Kostolny said of the German conglomerate that owned SME. “We had very professional owners who never picked up the phone and tried to influence the newspaper. Not once.”

But when the economy sank in 2008, most of these foreign owners decided to retreat to their core businesses back home and put their media companies in Central and Eastern Europe on the block. At that point, the distance between their Western owners and the political realities in their countries began to seem like a drawback, especially as the owners began selling to local interests with a direct stake in the coverage.

“It turned out that as much as they didn’t care about Slovak politics, they also didn’t care about who they sold the papers to and the impact of the sale on Czech and Slovak society,” Mr. Kostolny said.

The end result, said Marian Lesko, a commentator for Trend Magazine, a Bratislava-based business journal also owned by Penta Investments, is that “in Slovakia, independent media is no more, basically.”

Alexej Fulmek, the chief executive of Petit Press and one of the founders of SME, said he was troubled by Penta’s stake in the company but decided to stay on to protect SME and the other Petit Press publications, including the most important network of regional papers in the country.

“I am not happy with the situation,” he said. “We don’t like Penta. They have too many economic interests with the government.”

For its part, Penta bristles at being compared to politically connected oligarchs in the region, instead presenting itself as a fairly standard, Western-style investment company with interests in hospitals, retail outlets, real estate and other industries that now happens to include media.

Officials of the company, led by its dominant principal, Jaroslav Hascak, said they were interested only in keeping their media investments profitable by consolidating them and had no intention of meddling in the newsrooms.

“We do not have any direct businesses with the state,” said Martin Danko, the group’s chief spokesman. “We are not providing any services, not participating in any state competitions to supply something. But we are definitely operating in regulated businesses.”

Penta got into the media business after other entities controlled by local oligarchs — Mr. Babis, the Czech finance minister, as well as Ivan Jakabovic and Patrik Tkac, who control the J&T Finance Group in Slovakia — had already started investing in the industry.

Penta’s 45 percent interest in Petit Press prevents it from dominating the newsroom, even if it wished to do so — which, Mr. Danko said, it does not, because it understands that the credibility of the news is the core of the company’s profitability.

Mr. Kostolny doesn’t buy it. “Penta’s real interest is in influence, in controlling their critics,” he said. “They will make back their investment with one state contract, and nobody will bother them by writing about it.”

Mr. Kostolny is now working on a plan under which his deputies and as many former SME staffers as he can afford to hire will produce Projekt N, a web portal and a print paper, perhaps weekly, perhaps daily. His plan is to offer breaking news for free online, but to charge for longer and investigative pieces.

For the moment, though, they have no office outside of the Next Apache cafe — the name, said aloud, sounds like “nech sa paci,” which means “here you are” in Slovak — where Mr. Kostolny and many former employees now hang out.

Bulgaria: NY Times: Several Oligarchs Control Media Companies in Bulgaria

“I still don’t have investors,” he said. “I don’t have computers. I don’t have printing machines. I don’t have anything.”

For his part, Mr. Fulmek said he intended to spend the next several weeks trying to talk some of those who put in their notice to stay at SME with him and fight the good fight there. He even hopes to persuade Mr. Kostolny and his deputies to return, but he is not optimistic.

“They are very pure,” Mr. Fulmek said. “And that’s good, because the country needs such people.”

Transylvania 100 – an adventure through the alpine-like scenery of rural Transylvania

Transylvania 100 - May 17, 2014

The Transylvania 100 is a new mountain ultra which crosses one of most beautiful and mysterious regions of eastern Europe.

On May 17th, 2014, runners will assemble on a start-line beneath Dracula’s Castle in the village of Bran, ready for a 100km adventure through the alpine-like scenery of rural Transylvania.

Twisting singletrack, ancient forest trails, mountain plateaus and windswept ridges will link together in a grand, single-lap traverse of the Bucegi Range, climbing and descending more than 6,000 metres before  finishing back at the Castle.

Entries, which open on December 5th, are available to solo runners and teams-of-two, with prizes in both categories. All runners and teams who finish inside the 30-hour time limit will be awarded a special race memento.

For supporters, there’s the chance to see their runners at one of  the high points of the race, thanks to the cable-car ascent to the Bucegi Plateau from Busteni. They can also support at  two further road crossing points – in Busteni town, at the tourist cabana at Bolboci Lake  and, of course, at Dracula’s Castle at the start and finish.

Transylvania’s rustic revival lures princes and homebuyers

Dusk in the main street of Viscri, one of several hundred ancient villages scattered through the remote foothills of the Transylvanian Alps, features a peculiar daily routine.

A procession of cows, goats and geese saunters un-shepherded, down from the hills to pass the night in outbuildings attached to the village’s farmhouses. It is a bucolic picture in a land that time forgot, where hay is still harvested by scythes and remote valleys are scattered with wild flowers and rare birds.

The image of rustic life has stirred several visitors, among them the Prince of Wales. Drawn by the area’s traditional farming practices — the horse and cart is still in fashion — and its preservation of an ancient form of life, Prince Charles has become a leading player in local conservation efforts.

These villages were originally settled by ethnic German Saxons and Szeklers (a border-living warrior tribe of Hungarian origin) more than 800 years ago when the king of what was then Hungary invited them to guard his borders against the Ottoman Turks in return for fertile land and a degree of self-government.

There the villages stood, most of them shaped around a central fortified church, more or less uninterrupted until the late 1980s. Many then came within months of being bulldozed by “systemisation”, the brutal rural demolition programme of Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, before the regime was overthrown in 1989.

In the early 1990s, in accordance with its policy of repatriating its ethnic populations from abroad, the German government invited the Romanian Saxons to migrate to Germany where they were given housing and stipends.

The ensuing exodus left thousands of houses abandoned and vacant. Romanian and Roma families reoccupied some, while others remained empty.

Romania’s subsequent rising affluence — helped by EU membership in 2007 and a steady recovery from the financial crisis since early 2013 — has proved a mixed blessing for traditional homes.

“The problem is that many locals associate the traditional houses with poverty,” says Count Tibor Kalnoky, a native of the region and active conservationist.

They prefer to build their own larger homes, aping the architecture in France and Spain where many Romanians find seasonal work, says Brian Curran, of the Global Heritage Fund, which runs a number of conservation projects in the villages.

Alternatively, they will often renovate the houses with little regard for the traditional design, adopting new materials such as plastic windows and modern roof tiles. In some cases they knock houses down and start again.

Spurred by the interest of the prince — who started visiting the area in 1998 — a nationwide publicity campaign has recently taken shape. One national television network has just finished a year-long series of programmes lauding the benefits of sensitive restoration and shaming the odd hideous carbuncle.

In November, BCR, Romania’s largest commercial bank, started offering preferential borrowing rates for owners restoring houses in traditional villages. In June, having been patron of one local charity for a decade, the prince launched his own Foundation Romania, focusing on education, heritage preservation and sustainable development.

The fashion for eco-tourism has provided another lifeline. A quiet boom in adventurous travellers, curious to discover the peace and beauty of old rural villages, has seen many return for a holiday home.

Paul Hemmerth, himself a Saxon who left for Germany in 1980 and returned in 1997, now owns several B&B properties in the popular village of Richis, which has fewer than 800 residents. He reckons that half of his guests — “Dutch, Italians, English, Americans, Israelis” — make inquiries about buying at the end of their stay.

Look at the prices and you can see why. Entry-level farmhouses cost less than what many Londoners would pay for a new kitchen. Hemmerth, who also acts as a local agent, says it is possible to find a dilapidated two-bedroom house, built around the traditional courtyard design for less than €5,000. In Richis, there are more than 34 houses for sale at present, priced between €27,500 and €60,000.

Eight have been sold in the past month, mainly to European buyers. Nearby, the village of Beia has a number of well-preserved homes and a fortified church; it is an hour’s drive from Brasov, where construction of a new airport is almost finished.

Bran Castle, commonly known as Dracula’s castle, is said to be available to buy for €12m

For a more ambitious holiday home, locals say that Bran Castle is still on the market. Previous owners of the 12th-century Transylvanian pile include — in fiction, at least — Count Dracula. Bran’s owners are tight-lipped about the price — or even whether they would sell — but one local claims €12m could be enough.

Local residents and the Romanian state have priority on land sales, which must be advertised for 30 days before foreign buyers can bid. Only citizens from countries in the European Economic Area are entitled to buy land in Romania. One popular option for foreign buyers is to set up a limited company in Romania through which to purchase the home, although this will incur higher taxes.

In general, says Paul Michael Beza, founder of the British Romanian Chamber of Commerce, the buying process will be familiar to those who have bought in continental Europe, with fees a little cheaper. Hardly a slave’s labour, he says, “to acquire a slice of prelapsarian paradise.”

Buying guide

● The Saxon villages of the Transylvanian Alps, or Southern Carpathian Mountains, are in the south-central region of Romania

● All citizens from the European Economic Area are free to buy houses in Romania; in many cases, those outside may face restrictions on owning land

● The villages of Richis and Viscri are popular with foreign buyers. Viscri is 63 miles from Targu Mures international airport, which has five flights each week from London

What you can buy for . . .

€7,500 A small, rundown two-bedroom house in need of complete renovation on 100 sq metres of land

€30,000 A medium-sized, three-bedroom house on 1,800 sq metres, in need of some renovation

€60,000 A five-bedroom house with a large courtyard on a plot measuring 3,000 sq metres in a well-appointed street

Photographer Hajdu Tamas Finds Humor In Small-Town Romania

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Humor has a strange place in photography. So often a humorous photograph undermines the subject matter or the medium itself and leaves the image feeling like a ploy for cheap laughs.

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But when it works, when composition and moment and environment come together just right, and the photographer is clever enough to know when and how to press the shutter, a humorous photograph can have a tremendous impact.

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Hajdu Tamas is the kind of photographer who is not afraid to point his camera at the absurdity of life, even when that life is hard.

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His photographs of the minutia in small-town Romania present delightful juxtapositions of the old ways of doing things and the new direction in which its residents are trying to move.

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A high dive towers above an old cemetery, a cow pokes it head out of someone’s backyard bushes with apartment towers visible behind it.

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Tamas does not romanticize the environment, but rather takes a self-deprecating approach to the place he calls home.

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A veterinarian by trade, Tamas hones in on the relationship between the town’s people and animals.

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Livestock is used for work and for food, yet wanders in and out of the frames with a nonchalant attitude akin to the domestic animals.

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His exquisite balance of subtle humor and compassion reminds us that it is okay for art to make us laugh.

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