Bigger than this week’s election returns: An Appreciation of Dr. Radu Florescu

Jim Rosapepe (Ambassador to Romania, 1998-2001)

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Last Sunday, the people for Europe voted for the eighth time for a continent-wide parliament to represent them in the world’s most successful political institution created in the past century.

And Monday, the headlines trumpeted the latest “crisis of the European Union” — because less than a quarter of the public in the EU’s 28 states voted for nationalistic and/or anti-immigrant and/or anti-Semitic parties.

The next day, I was in France for the funeral of Professor Radu Florescu, the epitome of the post war European (and American) who survived fascism, World War II, and the Cold War — and lived to see, and helped make, the Europe the better place it is today.

Best known as the Boston College history professor who wrote books on Dracula, Florescu was the son of a Romanian diplomat who resigned his London embassy post when his country aligned with Hitler. He completed college at Oxford, earned his PhD at Indiana University, and became an American.

Tuesday, his casket, carried by his sons and grandsons to the front of the church, was draped by the Romanian flag. I should have expected that, given his lifelong connection to the country of his birth. But it was the day after the EU Parliament vote, in which Nigel Farage’s UKIP which led the balloting in UK literally had run against Romanian immigrants as a part of their campaign. And we were gathered to remember and honor Professor Florescu at a church in France, where his father is buried — and where Mme. Marine Le Pen led her country’s jingoists to a first place showing last weekend, as well.

The symbolism of the moment struck me as soon as I saw the Romanian flag.

Professor Florescu was born in Romania when the Farages and Le Pens of that era were rising in his country and across Europe. He finished school in London during Hitler’s blitz. And then, like so many Europeans, he went to America, with no money in his pocket.

But unlike some of his generation, he didn’t give up on Romania. Or on Europe. In fact, like founders of the EU and on NATO, now reviled by the European versions of our Tea Party zealots, or worse, he understood that Europe, from Romania to the UK, could reinvent itself, in partnership with America.

For the next sixty years, he worked in his own way to help make Europe and its partnership with America what they are today — peaceful and and prosperous.

He did it as a distinguished historian at Boston College, writing thirteen books and training thousands of scholars (and other students!) in Eastern European history.

He did it as a friend of Romania through thick and thin, from his days as a Fulbright Scholar there in the Communist years to his leadership as Honorary Romanian Consul in New England in the post-Communist era.

He did it as an advisor to the US State Department, the late Senator Ted Kennedy, and other American officials.

And he did it by raising a family which shares his Atlantic values — his four children have built their lives and raised their own families in Texas, Romania, Prague, France, and elsewhere on both continents.

As we stood in the cemetery Tuesday, Father Radu, a Romanian Orthodox priest from Nice, led prayers under the French sky for our Oxford-educated American friend.

He left Bucharest at thirteen on one of the last Orient Express trains as World War II was just beginning. After a lifetime of work helping to re-knit the political fabric torn by the wars of the 20th century, hot and cold, he was laid to rest this week in Europe, now whole and free.

In his lifetime, Professor Florescu and his generation, on both sides of the Atlantic, had faced and met that continent’s biggest challenges.

In comparison, Mr. Farage, Mme. Le Pen and their not-very-merry bands seem pretty small.

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