A khaki-coloured American dream

The 3rd May announcement that the former military base in Deveselu has been chosen as the site for part of the American missile defence shield has brought a glimmer of hope to an undeveloped corner of southern Romania.

Published on 4 May 2011 at 14:10

Until now, life in Deveselu, in the region of Oltenia, a couple of hundred kilometres from the Romanian capital Bucharest, was mainly centred on the village square with its canon and cafes. But ever since the official cars arrived, the locals here have been plunged into an American dream. In front of the former Romanian military base, Mayor George Beciu announced that he is open to the globalisation that will result from the construction of one part of the missile-defence shield the US government is preparing to build in Europe, officially to protect against threats from Iran. Then he delightedly added: “We can now look forward to a long era of good times.”

Locals in the village, where there is no gas supply or sewer system and no railway station since 2003, are proud to be part of the new anti-missile defence system. Some members of the 3,200-strong agricultural and livestock raising community are already mulling over the assistance they could offer the 200 (perhaps 500) American troops who are to be their new neighbours. “There is a lot of arable land in the military base. They could plant some of it, and we could supply them with spades,” remarks one farmer.

In the cafe, the villagers sitting around a table laden with beer, brandy and a few handfuls of seeds, are eager to explore all the implications of the latest news. “It’s a self-defence shield to protect Romania from the Russians, and the terrorists. But now that they have killed Bin Laden, what happens if the terrorists decide we’re a target?” wonders one local.

The people of Deveselu are not just hoping for new jobs, they are also preparing to give the Americans a proper welcome. The cafe owner insists he is ready to invest in entertainment for the troops. “We are going to build a disco, and we’ll bring in some nice-looking girls,” says Gigi Păun, overcome with satisfaction.

The villagers have been used to the presence of soldiers since 1952, when the Romanian military base became part of life in Deveselu. Manned for five decades, the base was finally closed following a order from NATO in 2002.

“The amount of time I spent sweeping those gigantic runways… There was the odd plane crash, but they were very rare. They made a huge roar in the air, but we were used to it. The cows gave birth quicker when the planes were flying around here,” says Paul, who is convinced that the defence shield will not disturb life in the peaceful village.

But there are also a few dissidents who claim that the shield installations will bring radiation and other misfortunes down on the village. The mayor is eager to reassure them: “The only thing that is likely to come down on people around here is a bit of falling masonery,” remarks Beciu.

In the air-force neighbourhood, which was once the pride of Deveselu, the rundown buildings have lost much of their former glory. Most of the pilots have retired and left the area. Costică Olaru worked as a pilot until 1998. “There were more than 50 pilots living in these buildings, and that is not counting the support staff,” he explains.

He still has his old uniform in his garage: the rough fabric is useful for cleaning metal objects. “We had the best fly boys in Romania here. Maybe the arrival of the Americans will bring back those days I have been dreaming about for the last 15 years,” says Olaru.

Now, most of the residents of the old military district are hoping to move away, and many of them are taking advantage of the opportunity to sell their apartments for 20,000 euros.

In Deveselu, which Slavic etymology tells us is the ninth village on the Danube, almost two thousand years after the Roman army paved the roads for the empire’s troops, the Americans are about to arrive with another all-powerful innovation. “NATO is now giving us back what it took away in 2002,” remarks one of the village residents.

View from Bucharest and Sofia

Amplification and anxiety

In the wake of President Traian Băsescu’s announcement of the construction of the Deveselu airbase, România Libera has more details on the project. Having cited concerns voiced by former president Ion Iliescu (“it will irritate Russians”), the daily quotes Băsescu, who points out that “the airbase, which will be ready in 2015, is to remain under Romanian command, and will be followed by another base, in Poland, [to be completed] in 2018.” The Americans will invest the equivalent of 270 million euros in Deveselu, which was previously the site of a Soviet base constructed in 1952. Once they are installed, the SM-3 anti-ballistic missiles at the site will cost more than 13.5 million euros a year to maintain. The daily adds that the missiles will only be used “in the event of an attack from Iran or North Korea” and that “the Pentagon has affirmed that the protection of continental Europe is the goal of the system which will partly be based in Deveselu” — a project “that already featured in plans under Ronald Reagan, dating back to 1983.”

In neighbouring Bulgaria, the choice of Deveselu has prompted a number of concerns, which have been reported in the media. The popular daily 24 Chasa reports that “the base will be located at a distance of 40 kilometres from the Kozloduy nuclear power station,” while Dnevnik remarks that as the crow flies, Deveselu is only 70 km from Belene: the site for a highly controversial Russian designed nuclear power plant, which is currently under construction.

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