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Universul Romanian’s Worldwide Appeal

NCM Profile

NCM, Catherine Black Posted: May 09, 2003

In 1985 Aristide Buhoiu Sr. was a wanted man in his native Romania. Still trapped in the shadow of Communist despot Nicolae Ceaucescu, Romania at the time was a dangerous and unforgiving place for outspoken critics or free thinkers. When he fled the country as a political refugee, Buhoiu Sr. vowed to accomplish in the United States what he could not in Romania: provide an uncensored media outlet for Romanians and criticize the injustices of the Ceaucescu government.

Buhoiu Sr. had made a name for himself as the host of a popular Romanian TV show in the years before his exile. By regularly showcasing the accomplishments of famous Romanians abroad, he covertly lifted the Iron Curtain to reveal the free world outside. Unsurprisingly, his ruse ran out and in 1984 Buhoiu Sr. came to the United States with his family to avoid the Ceaucescu regime’s infamous persecution.

In Los Angeles, the enterprising journalist founded the Universul Romanian newspaper, named after a well-known Romanian daily that was banned during the Communist era. At the time of its founding, Universul Romanian was only the second Romanian publication in the United States. Today there are more than a dozen publications, mostly concentrated in New York, Los Angeles and Michigan.

“Universul was a pretty big blow to the regime,” remembers Aristide Buhoiu Jr., the newspaper’s current manager. “My father’s main purpose was to be very anti-Communist and against the Ceaucescu regime, and we had a long list of collaborators in key places in the community that created a lot of problems for [the regime] at the time.” Universul Romanian was initially published bimonthly and distributed around the world—including Europe, the Middle East, North and South America, and South Africa—to an audience largely composed of other political exiles and refugees from the Communist era.

In this renegade spirit, the company published an influential book called Red Horizons in 1988. It was written by John Bacepa, a high ranking general in the Ceaucescu regime who also defected to the United States. Released when many Eastern Bloc countries were destabilizing, Red Horizons revealed many injustices of Ceaucescu’s government.

“We feel it was one of the biggest elements in the fall of his government,” notes Buhoiu Jr. “The old secret service tried to buy out the entire circulation to try and stop it from being published.”

In the dizzying years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, the Buhoius experimented with a number of media ventures back in Romania. These included a daily edition of Universul and a magazine called America, which actively promoted American life and culture. Both lasted only a few years before the country’s infrastructure problems forced them to close.

“You had to wait eight to ten months just to get money from issues sold the previous year. Distribution was handled by state agencies, which was a disaster,” Buhoiu Jr. remembers.

Luckily for the Buhoius, the wave of emigration from Romania did not end when the Communist era did. Buhoiu Jr. estimates that more than 120,000 Romanians currently live in the greater L.A. area alone, with an overall population of more than 1.5 million nationwide. “There’s still a great interest in coming to the U.S., especially with a lot of young Romanians today who can’t find enough opportunity in Romania,” says Buhoiu Jr. He adds there’s a deep rift between the older Romanian leadership and a younger generation eager for the material and cultural stimulation of the West.

Universul Romanian currently has one bureau in L.A. and one in Bucharest, where most editorial and production activities take place. It also maintains active partnerships with the country’s daily newspaper and Romanian television, which Buhoiu Sr. eventually returned to. The elder Buhoiu now spends most of his time in Romania, where he helped found the Romania Acade

Universul Romanian is now a weekly tabloid-sized newspaper and claims a 12,500 circulation worldwide. It focuses primarily on current events in Romania, as well as international news and issues relevant to its predominantly North American readers whose average age, says Buhoiu, is in the 50’s.

The newspaper is published almost exclusively in Romanian, which is a unique language more similar to Latin and Portuguese than to the Slavic languages that encompass most of Eastern Europe.

Like many ethnic newspapers today, Universul Romanian is affected by the slow economy. Changing markets, higher postage and printing costs, and the tastes of younger generations are all making the newspaper reconsider its business approach. Buhoiu Jr. says the family is considering franchising the paper to ease distribution pressures, and exploring an online format.

If its past creativity and resourcefulness are any indication, Universul Romanian is a solid fixture of the Romanian community abroad and an important symbol of its recent history. “A lot of other Eastern European papers look to us as a guide,” says Buhoiu Jr. “ We can’t forget that.”

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