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Guest Editorial: Dracula Looks at 40

Guest Editorial: Dracula looks at 40

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In the late Summer of 1984, while hanging out in Bucharest one evening, a university friend and I decided (with the help of some local red wine) to go “look for Dracula.” Full of adventure and certainly educational, the experience was not a positive one. Due to the harsh policies of the Ceausescu regime at the time, Romania was a dark place (there were literally few if any lights during the evenings), with little food to eat (even for foreigners like us), and a local population who would rarely, if ever, talk to us (unbeknownst to us at the time, the Romanian secret police, the Securitate, required anyone who had contact with a foreigner to report the interaction – needless to say, this was not conducive to long and meaningful conversations).

Almost 40 years later, I think of that trip whenever I am asked about my experiences in Eastern Europe. How should I explain such vast societal and economic changes? One way to do this is to think of the scene from the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy steps out of her black and white life and finds herself in the colorful world of Oz. Wow.

The changes are nothing short of a miracle. Too often, particularly for lawyers, it is easy to get caught up in the glass-half-empty negatives (such as corruption, anti-democratic behaviors, or poor policies and governmental mismanagement). There is no question that if I had a magic wand, there are a plethora of issues I would love to address.

But that is not what I think about when reflecting on my years here. Instead, it is the immense array of colors and progress that I see.

To demonstrate, let’s talk numbers. Using Romania as an example, per the World Bank, annual GDP per capita grew from around USD 1,680 in 1990 to almost USD 12,900 in 2020 – that’s a growth of 7.5 times within 30 years. Per capita Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) in Romania saw growth of over 600% during the same period. Romanians are also getting happier it seems, rising up the ranks in the World Happiness Index from 90 in 2013 to 46 in 2021.

As a lawyer, the sheer range of experiences I have had and the deals I have worked on are something I have thoroughly enjoyed. The chance to work on financing a large shopping mall one day, selling a hydro-power plant the next, and then helping to buy the country’s largest brewery the following week (requiring us to taste the product, only as a matter of doing proper due diligence, of course!), was viewed as normal back in the day.

But talking to my law colleagues from the US and UK about their careers, it is clear that my normal was actually a unique experience arising out of me being in this place, at this time. Sitting around the bar telling war stories, it quickly becomes evident that I have lived a fascinating professional life – unusual in its scope and adventure. I certainly would not blame them if they believed only half my stories. In fact, I am not sure I believe half of what I have seen.

And the people. So much fun and so much flavor. Any developing and rapidly changing place attracts a certain type of person, to be sure. From the pirates, bootleggers, and chancers to the humanitarians, charities, and serious long-term investors, the vast variety of people have made my experiences so much richer.

Seeing local entrepreneurs and professionals rise and succeed is part of the miracle I have been discussing. They have opportunities that their parents (or grandparents) could not have dreamed of, and they are taking full advantage of them, as they should. But emigration is one of the downsides and I do wish more would stay or return to the region, as their drive, energy, and skills would make a huge difference locally.

And so, I end where I begin, with me reflecting on the region today with a perspective of close to 40 years. It’s been a crazy ride... and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat, even if I haven’t met Dracula (yet!).

By Charles Vernon, Managing Partner, Vernon | David

This Article was originally published in Issue 8.8 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.

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