John Florescu Interviews US Ambassador to Romania Kathleen Kavalec – Alianta – Strengthening the Romanian American Alliance

If you missed our Conversation featuring US Ambassador to Romania Kathleen Kavalec, you can revisit it here.

Read the entire transcript below:

[00:00:00] John Florescu: Good. Morning ambassador and welcome to the Conversations series. This is John Florescu here. I’m in Oradea today. Change the venue and I would like to welcome you. Allow me to just give a few words ahead of time.
Kathleen Kavalec was named US Ambassador to Romania, and she was sworn in on December 20th, 2022. She served as head of the O S C E mission in Bosnia, HESCO, and she was also serving for a short while in Paris at the at, at the UNESCO West.
She is deputy head of mission. She also has served as deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs at the State Department. She’s had tours of duties in the Ukraine and twice in Russia from 2005 to 2008. She’s served as cultural at Sheik in Romania. She’s a graduate of uc, Berkeley Master’s degree from.
Georgetown, and I think you’re extremely well suited for the job because I counted five languages spa Romanian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Russian. So my first question is, which one do you speak best?
[00:01:20] Ambassador Kavalec: Let’s see. Sorry, something I gotta pop up there. Probably Spanish. Spanish. I see. Okay. I grew up speaking Spanish, so that’s, it’s almost a maternal language.
[00:01:31] John Florescu: I see, and I see you’re a Californian. So I guess the first obvious question is tell us a little bit about yourself. Somebody describe you as modest and shy, which I found hard to believe, but tell us a little bit about yourself.
[00:01:43] Ambassador Kavalec: Who described that? That
[00:01:44] John Florescu: way? Someone who characterize themselves as a friend of yours oh,
[00:01:48] Ambassador Kavalec: okay.
Modest and shy. Interesting. Okay. I, alright, I, as you said, I’m a Californian native Californian, grew up in Southern California, but spent part of my childhood in Latin America. So I grew up speaking Spanish. My father was a Spanish teacher, so we spoke Spanish at home. So that was the beginning of my interest in international affairs, foreign languages and all that.
And then I studied as you said, at uc, Berkeley. I did a junior year abroad in Barcelona, Spain. Also studied in Portugal in was an exchange student in Brazil. So lots of international experiences in my background, which encouraged me made the foreign service team quite interesting. So I applied out of grad school and was accepted and I’ve been doing that ever since.
[00:02:40] John Florescu: I see. This is round two for you, and I think you, we are trying to figure out the personnel history. I think you must be the first diplomat who arrived not as an ambassador, but who served here before, but then came back as ambassador. Do you know that, is that the case?
[00:02:55] Ambassador Kavalec: It might be possible.
I’m not sure. I do know I’m the first woman ever to have hold the position. I, and for, I thought I might be the first Californian, but I think there was one, at least one Californian before me. I see.
[00:03:08] John Florescu: Okay. California is well represented. When you, now that you’ve come back, were there any lessons you learned the first time around that sort of came in handy when you came back this
[00:03:17] Ambassador Kavalec: time?
I think, obviously having lived here for three years, having had the opportunity, I was cultural at Tache between 2005 and 2008. I had the opportunity to travel throughout the country. To see a lot of different cities and rural areas. So I think and to learn the language most importantly.
So I think that has served me well. It feels in a way, like coming home. Because also when I was here, our children were young. They were ages four to seven when we arrived, and they went to school here. Including our youngest who went to Romanian school and became very like a little Romanian girl.
It was nice to return and have that e experience, although now the kids are grown and flown, so they’re not here with us this time. But it was a great post for us as a family and then professionally as well.
[00:04:12] John Florescu: You mentioned the thing about being the first female ambassador here to Romania.
Does, did that, does that change your thinking in any way, or it’s just a nice historical fact? Or does it make you. Think more sensitive to certain issues or women’s issues?
[00:04:27] Ambassador Kavalec: Yeah, I think it doesn’t change things I wouldn’t say, but I’m hoping that I can be supportive find ways to be supportive of more participation of women in politics and leadership roles here in Romania.
I think Romania’s lagging a little behind the rest of the eu. In that area. So I hope that hopefully by example and support, I can encourage more participation in politics, more participation in the parliament more women in leadership roles.
[00:04:59] John Florescu: And when you came back after you maybe came on visits, but you come back officially with a 15 year lapse, did you feel as though.
The country’s changed more than you thought, or was a bit behind the eight ball, or what’s your feeling about that from a evolution?
[00:05:15] Ambassador Kavalec: Yeah. I think the country has changed quite a bit. And I think those of us who’ve been away in return probably see it more readily I think, than people who are living it day to day.
I think it’s easy to be, caught up in the difficulties of the moment and lose track of the larger context of how much things have changed. I looked up some of the statistics economically to see what has changed. The G D P has almost tripled since I was here before.
The per capita income, I think most importantly was 44% of the EU average when I was here before, and now it’s 77% of the EU average. So that’s a huge jump. There have been over 60 billion in EU funds invested. And I see that everywhere I go. I was just in Salina Toda, which has been renovated with the help of money.
Overall trade has increased. Imports have doubled. Exports have tripled. The trade with the United States has tripled. The number of US companies here has doubled. There are some areas where I noticed there hasn’t been as much progress as I would’ve hoped. In road construction, for example, highway construction, you probably have experienced that.
There are a couple of new airports and some more coming now online, but I think overall road and rail infrastructure has not advanced as much as one might have hoped. But they’re, I see lots of progress economically and also just in the cities traveling around Romania.
There I was in Yash and which is looking really beautiful. . I’ve been in Timisoara and you see a great deal of renovation improvements. So yeah, I see a lot of
[00:07:02] John Florescu: change. That’s a pretty good report card. Having all those facts there. I just wanna turn right to the news.
That’s the, one of the big news obviously around the world, is what happened in Istanbul the other day, or in Ira. With the election of president, reelection of Ergon, president Ergon, how do you view that in terms of our wider geopolitical concerns in the Ukraine next door? A good thing, a bad thing too, will to say because it’s certainly, he’s been a controversial figure in this world.
[00:07:32] Ambassador Kavalec: Yeah I’m not the US ambassador to Turkey, so it’s not really for me to comment, I think on that. But I think from our perspective, it’s in the re here in Romania, what’s most important is, to see ongoing cooperation with Turkey in, insofar as the war in Ukraine.
[00:07:53] John Florescu: Then let’s leaving it between our two countries between the United States and Romania. I would say that Romania as a place upon more important, the stakes are higher now than they ever were. Given what’s going on and looking ahead to next year, we have presidential elections in both countries.
Do you see, given the long term US interest here, Any difficult scenarios in terms of what could happen politically on the Romanian side and what could happen in the United States, something that keeps you up at night worrying about or thinking about what could happen on both sides of the Atlantic on this, between the United States and Romania.
[00:08:33] Ambassador Kavalec: First of all let me just say that I think the, having returned here, I see that the relationship with the United States has strengthened and deepened and is I think very healthy and strong and improving all the time. I think that, it’s based on shared values, shared democratic values shared interest in economic prosperity, and a shared view of security.
In the region Romania is playing a very important role in terms of the alliance within the alliance and as a partner for the United States and has been a steadfast. Supporter of Ukraine since the war has begun. So I think we have we have very similar views and attitudes in to the the security situation in the region and to our, goals going forward.
And I don’t really see that changing. I think our interests are deeper than any one, administration or one government. If you look at across the board, public attitudes in both countries. So no, I don’t think there’s anything that keeps me up at night.
[00:09:38] John Florescu: I see. In Romania today, there’s always this continuing discussion about this power sharing arrangement and when it’s going to happen.
Can you give us some of your views on that? How do you see that situation evolving?
[00:09:50] Ambassador Kavalec: I. Yeah. I know we were all expecting that there would be a rotation as of last Friday that seemed to be agreed between the two key parties and the coalition. And then it didn’t happen there, given the strike and I guess discussions between the parties that it was better to delay a bit.
Today in bores there are Lots of public protests downtown I was out and saw the teachers, all coming together. So I think it’s understandable that the government might have decided now is the time to focus on addressing those issues more immediate than, reorganizing the government which can wait a little bit, I think.
I, the good news I think from our perspective is, we are in contact, with both parties, with all the parties in the coalition, and I think in terms of the relationship with the United States and our shared goals and values I don’t see any major difference there.
And by all signs, any, the rotation when it happens will be managed and smooth. At least that’s what, that’s their predicting and we see no indications to the contrary.
[00:10:57] John Florescu: Yeah. So you take it as the slow movement of politics anywhere in the world, in a sense.
It’s delayed by personalities and accommodations. Yeah.
[00:11:06] Ambassador Kavalec: Yeah. I think, our sense is, our sense is that the coalition is working very well and every, where we have. Been engaged on issues that we’ve seen. We see great coordination. We see signs that they talk to each other all the time, that they’re coordinating on issues in an anticipation of the rotation.
I don’t think we see a lot to be concerned about. Of course, the timing is up to the parties to figure out what makes the most sense.
[00:11:34] John Florescu: And speaking of parties, what do you make of the rise of the gold party that seems to have come on stronger than most people thought in the last period of time?
And not just them, but some other more nationalistic parties. Smaller ones, albeit smaller ones. What do you, ma, what do you make of that?
[00:11:50] Ambassador Kavalec: I think all a lot of Western democracies are contending with, the appearance of these kinds of parties. And there’s a lot of I, I think it’s facilitated by social media and the sharing of certain narratives.
I don’t think it’s unusual in this day and age. But I do think, you know that this country. Has a clear direction in terms of its adherence to nato, to the EU to Western values. I don’t see this as a major threat to that but I do think it’s reflective of larger trends in the region.
[00:12:27] John Florescu: one ambassador or former ambassador mentioned to me whether there was any inkling of a Russian hand in this. Do you think that’s an overreach or that’s a,
[00:12:38] Ambassador Kavalec: an idea That was I can’t speak to that. I don’t know. But I, you recognize certain themes and narratives and whether those are, coordinated.
Or just happened to be, a confluence of interest hard to gauge.
[00:12:52] John Florescu: Yeah you’re talking there about the war and ambassador, the foreign minister of Romania, Boko was on a b BBC interview not too long ago, and he was asked to quantify romania’s activities in respect to the war in Ukraine.
And he showed a certain kind of reticence, which didn’t delight the B C guy, but I understand his thinking. Could you give us a little bit of a closer feel on what the us ground forces are doing here in Romania and tell us a little bit more about what we’re
[00:13:22] Ambassador Kavalec: up to. We have since the beginning of the war, we’ve stationed more American troops here in Romania.
We had until recently we had the headquarters of the hundred first Airborne. And they have now left and been replaced by the 10th Mountain division. In what we’re calling a, it’s a rotational presence with different troops coming through. We’re we have a little over 3000. American troops in country now what are they doing?
They are exercising with Romanian forces and allied forces with other countries who have a troop presence here. The French have about a thousand troops in country now. And there are other countries with smaller contingents and what’s the purpose? The purpose is first of all, first and foremost, to strengthen deterrence.
In the Eastern plank. The second is to operate together, to train and improve interoperability. This is a great opportunity for, troops to work together and learn experience both the terrain and to, and working with other forces within nato. So they are working in some cases to improve facilities, to better house all these extra troops Yeah.
To improve airfield and things like that. So that’s it’s a, it’s an exercise I think in deterrence overall, first and foremost, and in improving interoperability.
[00:14:49] John Florescu: And are those numbers likely to go up? I know when they announced they, when they announced by the defense department many months ago I I always thought, wow, that seems like a small number.
But given the way the war went, it didn’t seem like you needed a huge contingent of Western troops. But is that, does that like to go likely to go up? What do you think?
[00:15:08] Ambassador Kavalec: It’s that’s, those are decisions that’ll be made elsewhere, in NATO or in Washington. So I can’t really speak to that. I think what’s more important to say is that they’ll continue to be a presence and at some level, which will depend on how things go.
But, keep in mind that. No single country within the alliance is, the keeper of, all the forces. Yeah. That forces are dispersed around Europe and that’s part of deterrence as well, that you have capabilities and capacities in different parts of the continent.
[00:15:42] John Florescu: When you think about it, when you think about how forces in Germany have shifted over here and Romania became a cent point even before, in respect to the Middle East, except for Poland, you’d think that Romania’s probably the closest ally of the United States in Central Eastern Europe.
[00:15:58] Ambassador Kavalec: Yeah, I’d say Poland and Romania together are the backbone of the alliance. I think Chairman Rogers in chair of the house defense Committee described it that way, and I think that’s a pretty accurate description.
[00:16:11] John Florescu: Yeah, that seems absolutely right. The. With far off hopes that we’ll see an end to the war.
That, or that it will peter out somehow. Do you think Romania is particularly well suited for the reconstruction of Ukraine? I was talking people at the IMF who a year ago said it was worth about 750 billion euros. The value of that job, God knows sadly enough, the number goes up all the time.
What’s your view about that? Cause there’s a lot of talk about that the Romania is well suited because of its expertise.
[00:16:43] Ambassador Kavalec: Yeah, I would imagine so. First and foremost, let’s hope that the war can end as soon as possible. Doesn’t seem like that’s gonna happen immediately, all the efforts now are focused on that.
We know from history that there will have to be a big effort in reconstruction and obviously neighbors who are nearby and have capabilities are in a good position. Romania has been one of the proponents of the three Cs initiative to improve infrastructure transportation within Europe.
And I think that will help, that should help benefit reconstruction of Ukraine as well. I think Ukraine or Romania has been such a strong supporter of Ukraine throughout this period in terms of receiving refugees and assisting those that choose to stay here in terms of helping ensure that Ukrainian grain can get out and get to markets.
So I think there has been a lot of experience in cooperation and in creating new people to people ties that were, I would imagine will come into play when the focus turns to reconstruction.
[00:17:49] John Florescu: I noticed while you were talking, we had a couple of questions come in. Okay. So I’ll just throw it over to Willka.
Do you have something on your screen that I saw on the bottom of mine?
[00:18:00] Raluca Bucur: I just, yes, I wanna remind everybody who’s watching on platforms that you can put questions in as well, have.
A little bit of a long question. Few, a few days ago, 80% of Romanian said that corruption is the main threat to the democracy. Last week, one of the CEO appointed by the actual energy minister has been arrested for corruption. I’m a whistleblower. Congratulations, by the way, on that. In a fraudulent appointment of no professional board in hi fraud, recognized also by the Court of Appeal, one of.
The personal advisors of this arrest of this arrested CEOs is appointed in the supervision board Ofk. How is her excellence ambassador her excellence regard the implementation of the best corporate governments in so and particular ink, and how does corruption affect the democracy and increased national disparities influence in Romanian
[00:19:03] Ambassador Kavalec: politics?
Yeah I’m sorry. I have to say that you’ve been going in and out, so I didn’t catch all the elements of the question. And I don’t see it on my chat, but let me just say in general on the issue of corruption I mentioned I maybe let me take a step back and talk on my, about my priorities here as ambassador.
So first, and for foremost I put my priorities in terms of three baskets. The first being security of course given the war next door. And that has to do with strengthening our military and defense relationships and within the alliance and bilaterally and improving deterrence.
The second is trade, focusing on increasing trade and investment. And the third is on strengthening democracy, including rule of law, medium freedom and people to people ties. And that third item of strengthening demo democracy includes efforts to combat corruption, which goes back to the second priority of increasing trade and investment because we all know that companies look to invest in countries where they know there is strong rule of law where.
They can count on transparency, where they can count on predictability in the application of laws and government policies. So part of the goal here for me, will be to support programs and efforts to improve rule of law in Romania, and that we do through. Cooperation on different programs.
We just sent a group of procurement experts from certain government ministries to the United States to see how procurement works in the United States. How, what efforts are made there to prevent, anticipate, and prevent efforts and corruption in the procurement process. A lot of programs like that.
We also work. Closely our law enforcement is present here in the country working with partners in justice ministry and in other agencies in combating organized crime in improving participating in training and things like that. So we’ll continue all those activities and look for opportunities to improve.
But the strength, the resiliency, and the of institutions in Romania that work in the area of rule of law,
[00:21:26] John Florescu: I noticed Ms. Ambassador, that you also interested in energy and renewable energy and you are backing or at least the US government seems to be backing this interesting initiative to bring small mobile units.
Made in the United States and in collaboration, I think of nuclear electric. Can you speak to that
[00:21:43] Ambassador Kavalec: a little bit? Yeah. So this is an exciting initiative which involves the introduction into Romania of a new approach to nuclear energy. And that’s through the use of small modular reactors, which is taking an old technology, but packaging it in a new way to make it more scalable, to make it possible to.
To have smaller and larger reactors depending on the needs. And also a, in a with a new improvements in the technology that make it safer. Drawing on the lessons from Fukushima and Cher Noble to make sure there’s a a Ability for the reactor to shut down safely in the case of an emergency that doesn’t rely on electric on electricity that is fully passive.
So this is a exciting new technology that Romania has shown an interest in and which the US is also working to implement. There is a similar project in Idaho right now. This is something where Romania, which has experience in nuclear energy generation in its chair Nevo plant, is well placed because of its expertise to adopt.
So we are working with our XM bank and other partners in the US government together with. Nuclear electrica and other players in a US company new scale to support this project in Romania. In addition, we’re also supporting the efforts to renovate the first reactor at Chair Nevo and to complete two new reactors reactors three
[00:23:23] John Florescu: and four.
And is that, is it also, I heard that there’s a chance that this could become a hub for developing this technology in this region? Is that the case?
[00:23:32] Ambassador Kavalec: It could become definitely, and again, I think because Romania has this expertise, has nuclear engineers and people who have run a nuclear power plant Romania, being first on the bandwagon for this can be in a position to host a training center, for example.
Right now we’re seeing a lot of other countries that wanna adopt this technology, South Korea, for example. So I think there’s, we’re gonna see we seeing a lot of excitement and interest in adopting this new let me, emphasize it. The technology itself is not new.
What’s new is how the reactor is scaled. It can be, parts of it can be built offsite. It can be smaller, it can be, drawing on except existing technology. It’s if you have battery packs, you can, I see, more, or, you can have a few, or you can have a lot, depending on the need on the electrical needs.
[00:24:26] John Florescu: I’ve heard that, I’ve obviously, we’ve been hearing all about it as we’ve read about the New York Times and elsewhere. In some of the press here, someone told me there’s some fake news that’s slowing the momentum undermining its support. Have you heard anything about that?
[00:24:39] Ambassador Kavalec: I have, there have been there were, there was I think some time ago there was a bit of a some misinformation being circulated on social media and questions being raised about the technology and but I think we have done a lot of work together with the Romanian government that’s working on this to try to help explain how the technology works to sh discuss how the safety system works.
And I think, it’s nuclear energy kind of went outta style for a while. Yeah. People, particularly after some of the bad accidents that occurred. So I think it’s natural that people have questions and I think the best, response is to, be open and transparent and explain how it works.
And I think that’s I think that’s what we’ve been doing and that seems to be paying off.
[00:25:26] John Florescu: Yeah, it’s a, it looks like a very successful initiative and it has a lot of momentum and a natural support. The French who were developing nuclear weapon, nuclear commercial facilities in the sixties were out at tune now.
They seem quite wise to have done so. I. One of the issues that always pops up and is the ever lingering status of visa waivers and Romania has a good ally, you would think would be a not on the short list of people from this part of the world that don’t have, I guess it’s Romanian, Bulgaria, what you say to such a good ally and what is being done.
[00:26:00] Ambassador Kavalec: So we are this is an area where I would love during my mandate to see Romania join visa waiver program. And we’re working closely with the Romanian government on the two parts of the effort that are involved. The first has to do with setting up information, sharing and procedures.
That make visa waiver work in terms of, sharing information about problematic individuals or things like that. But the second part has to do with the what’s called the refusal rate, the percentage of Romanians who are turned down for a visitor visa. It only applies to visitor visas.
And the US law is written, has a very low threshold for that rate. Can be, it has to be 3% or under. So on that on that side, what we’re doing is working with the Romanian government to. Carry out an education campaign to help people be more successful as when they do apply for visas to explain the types of visas so that people apply for the right kind of visas, for example, that they don’t try to go work in the United States on a tourist visa.
And I, I think the trends are all in the right direction. So I’m generally optimistic. It will take a little time because the measurement is based on year from October to October. We will particularly in the fall, have a big campaign to try to Help ensure that, as many applications are as successful as possible, and help Romania qualify to enter the program.
[00:27:29] John Florescu: So you’re gonna sidestep the question of what, when this is gonna actually work?
[00:27:35] Ambassador Kavalec: It has, it depends on the, there’s objective criteria that has to be met. So what our effort is to help Romania meet that criteria. I see.
[00:27:44] John Florescu: The the polls I think were very successful because I think they limited the number of applications that uhhuh that would push it over.
In other words, they got ready to have any bad apples beforehand, so it never got counted. Wouldn’t that be a good formula here?
[00:27:59] Ambassador Kavalec: I think what we wanna do are encourage people who qualify to apply, and I would encourage people to apply starting in October so they get counted in the next Calen or the next year’s count.
And particularly people that have had visas in the past, they can apply online. They don’t have to go in for an interview to, to get their visas renewed. So that will add. And again, just we say through education, encouraging people to apply for the right kind of visa at the right time.
Yeah. Yeah, I, the more good applications we have that lowers the percentage of the bad applications.
[00:28:33] John Florescu: The, you mentioned investments and I think you said when you were somewhere in the country in Timmy Schwar, you gave an interview and you’re talking about.
Our investments have created, I think a hundred thousand new jobs basically based on US investment. Have you set an overall target, either in terms of the amount of investment or in terms of what we’d hope for is job creation, the consequence of that investment? Do you set any targets internally in your mandate?
What, this is what I’d like to do, like you just said about Visa waiver.
[00:29:04] Ambassador Kavalec: No, I haven’t set up any targets at this stage. I think that’s difficult to do because of course it depends on business and their, business decisions and lots of factors that we can’t we can’t control or even predict.
Who would’ve predicted Covid or the war? Yeah. Our focus is on helping Romania improve the business climate and address any business issues that do come up that make to help companies feel that, this is a good environment to invest and we are seeing that investment.
I was just at a couple of American companies Last week, I think I was at Proctor and Gamble and I was at Coca-Cola. Yep. And both companies are investing have, long relationships in the country and are investing more in new technology. In creating expanding their production.
They’re serving wider markets in Europe, in Turkey and and further on. A lot of companies that are here have, are well established and continue to invest. And what we can do is encourage companies that might be considering Romania to come in and take a look. I was just up in Yash where Amazon has opened a research center and just in Yosh, Amazon has employs 2000 people with good jobs, high-tech jobs.
They have 4,000 employees throughout Romania. So I do see and the companies tell us, that there is good talent here in Romania. One thing I would note is like everyone else, they mention sometimes the shortage of qualified personnel because people go off, can go anywhere in Europe and be hired.
So hopefully, These new opportunities will help bring some people back. And I did meet a few people in Yas who had returned to Yas because they thought the city was doing well and they wanted to work, in their own country. That, that’s that’s a challenge.
Romania is a net importer now of employees. They are, I’m sure many of you know that. Now there are people coming in from Nepal and Sri Lanka filling service jobs. So there’s a lot of competition for labor.
[00:31:16] John Florescu: I see that there’s a question that was
[00:31:18] Raluca Bucur: coming. There are questions coming in everywhere, so you’re very popular ambassador.
Two of these, which sounded very, the first one is from who is out of the Immigration Research Forum and a follow up to the visa waiver conversation. The question is, would you support an effort to have the Department of State share actionable information on the main causes of visa denial or generic profiles of applicants being denied to assist the concerted effort in targeting appropriate information campaigns?
That’s that’s the first question. Uhhuh
[00:31:54] John Florescu: one at a time. One at a time. Ok. You hear the question, ambassador, did you hear that question?
[00:32:00] Ambassador Kavalec: Yeah, and I can see it on my screen. I’m looking at it. So what we are working closely with the Romanian government and we are, in discussions both, as I said, on kind of the, some of the information sharing aspects, but also information, yeah, information sharing.
Agreements but also strategizing on how to improve information. This is being done and I’m hopeful. One of the best lessons that other countries have told us that have gone through this process, including Poland and Croatia, or a couple of the countries who’ve joined Visa Waiver most recently.
Is that in each case, they appointed a coordinator within their government to be the single person on visa waiver that had the capacity to coordinate all the activities within their governments to help address Visa waiver. And I believe the Romanian government is just about to appoint a Visa waiver coordinator in the Prime Minister’s office.
So if that happens, we’ll have a single point of contact we can work with on on these issues. Any,
[00:33:05] John Florescu: what was the other question there? Uca.
[00:33:09] Raluca Bucur: The other question comes from one on YouTube. We have several questions, so if we have time, we’ll take all of them. If we don’t, we apologize.
But the question is, US and Romania have a lot of shared values. Romania is lagging in terms of education. How could the US Embassy and the US contribute to raising the education level in Romania?
[00:33:31] Ambassador Kavalec: Yeah, on, on that. We have very different education systems, so I don’t know that we are in a position to, to assist on the education system itself.
And I know that there’s a process right now with A new education law that’s being considered in parliament that has been worked on for several years now with inputs from a lot of people. So hopefully that will be helpful. From our side, what we do is promote a educational exchange and.
Exchange and in particular, at the level of higher education through the Fulbright commission which supports educational exchange in both directions, Romanians to the United States and Americans to Romania. And I think we found that this is, the best venue for kind of sharing expertise.
On on a range of topics, but including education on how the systems work and what people can learn. So I think that’s probably the best venue for education or I would say sharing expertise that can be useful here. Also I think just our speaker program, we often bring speakers over with expertise, when there’s an interest who can speak on different topics, including education.
So those are some of the things we do. Of course, we have a lot of we also have a high school exchange program, which, people get exposure to education in the United States. But I think, a lot of the work I think one of the best opportunities Romania has right now is through its accession to the O E C D which we haven’t discussed, but is another Romanian goal because the O E C D is, I think, one of the premier institutions on providing expertise on education.
And they are the ones that carry out testing. To monitor and evaluate the level of education in a country. And that helps the country decide, where to put their focus in terms of reform. So I think Romania’s making a lot of progress right now on its O E C D accession.
So hopefully that will also be a source of assistance and expertise. I want
[00:35:36] John Florescu: to pick up on what you were saying a moment ago about the brain drain and also as it connects to US technology companies. The four largest technology, four largest companies in the world are American companies and they’re technology companies and they’re all quite big in Romania.
Y you going around the country and from what I’ve seen myself, is if you talk to a bunch of high school kids or even college ed educated, college aged kids, is there’s a huge desire to leave the country. Now a lot of these high-tech jobs can be had here in an expanding array of corporations.
Do you have a particular view, I’m not saying officially as a representative of the government, but as personally to urge people to stay behind to help build their coun country?
[00:36:21] Ambassador Kavalec: I think that will happen naturally as Romania continues to progress. I think it’s natural for young people to wanna go And try new things and travel.
I did it when I was that age. You’re always you’re curious about the rest of the world. I think of it in the following fashion. One of the places I lived growing up was in Spain and when I was in Spain, Franco was still in power and Spain was a very poor country.
And at the time a lot of Spaniards went to work in France and Germany. There was a big exodus. But, Spain Franco died. Spain became a democratic country. It became part of the European union. It started receiving investment. And guess what started happening?
Spaniard started returning. With all the expertise they had gained working in other countries. And I have run into people who are in fact, considering or have decided to return because they see opportunities. I was just in Brussels talking to a young lady who had grown up in Spain and she told me her parents plan to return Tolus to open a business because they think things are improving there.
So I think it will happen naturally. What should the. Government considers some kind of programs to attract people. I know some other countries have done that, maybe Ireland has. So there, could be some more things that could be done. But I think what will bring people back is seeing a country that’s working where their economic opportunities, where rule of law is strengthened, where, you know, there’s predictability.
Accountability and that will bring people home. And I know again, I go back to my point about, people are very mired in the problems of the moment and progress that they don’t see. But if you take it in longer context that there has been a lot of progress and a lot of improvement.
And no, it’s not perfect. It never is. But I think I’m optimistic for Romania, cuz I see a lot of opportunities. The, the access to EU funds and expertise is, having a huge impact. Lots of, big projects in store. So I, I think that’s I think over time we’re gonna see.
Things changing for the better.
[00:38:30] John Florescu: What do you make of a kind of interesting phenomenon to Viva Visa Way, but going the other way, which is US retirees coming from the United States and living in Romania, I’ve noticed in Timmi there are law firms that just catered to Americans on the, who have their social security and decided to go back to Romania, and it makes pretty good sense.
It’s a friendly country. Everybody speaks English. The country is beautiful. Your social security check goes a long way. Have you, what’s your take on that? Have you seen much of that yet?
[00:38:59] Ambassador Kavalec: I have not run into that yet, but it doesn’t surprise me. I think that’s a worldwide phenomenon. That happening in Portugal, you see it happening in Latin America.
In Mexico, there were always lots of American retirees. I think. One thing all of us, don’t always keep in mind is that the world has become a much more mobile place and people, may it used to be, maybe when I was young, if people immigrated and moved to the United States, they might never return to their home country.
Yeah. Or only go back once or twice. Now people, they might move to another country and go back every Christmas or every summer or, I think it’s natural that people could consider retiring in other places once you’re done working. Certainly. In the US there was always Costa going to Florida, but why not Costa Rica?
Why not Romania?
[00:39:50] John Florescu: It seems to be a new trend from what I heard from lawyers and Tim, that’s what they, which surprised me, but then I, when they laid it out, it made a lot of good common sense. Yeah. Now your long-term, 15 year observer of Romanians, Romania, and Romanians, what quality of the Romanians do you admire in particular?
[00:40:09] Ambassador Kavalec: Oh, I think I re I really appreciate their hospitality, their warmness their they have, there’s a gentleness I think one of my Favorite expressions in Romanian is , this ability to, try to be the soft approach, yeah, that’s good. I think Romania is people generally feel safe here. They feel, that this is a hospitable place. And and I think the other thing I appreciate and admire about the Romanians, I know people worry about the education system, but lots of very smart and intelligent Romanians.
I don’t know whose measure it is, but they I’ve seen a claim that, they’re among the strongest IT professionals in Europe. We see lots of Romanians succeeding in Silicon Valley. There was always a strong sciences, here and there still is.
I think there’s a lot of talent. I go back to saying I, I’m really optimistic for Romania. I think it has a lot of talent and potential. There are some Governing aspects to try to improve and get right. But with the EU support and all the opportunities that people have I think there’s a lot of positive things coming.
[00:41:20] John Florescu: The professor Dennis Diante, who’s a prof expert on Romanian studies, From London, and it was at Georgetown actually. He said Romania’s always found a pragmatic bridge to the United States. He said in World War I at the end of World War ii in the positive periods in the seventies where under card and so forth, the country’s got along well, maybe not fully aware what was really going on in Romania.
And again, after 89, in a way, they always find a way to make the thing work, work out. It’s a kind, pragmatism and so forth. What’s your view on that? It’s a fair assessment. There’s a joke. They say Romanians can go in a sort of a rotating door, go in behind you and end out in front of you.
[00:42:05] Ambassador Kavalec: Fair? I hadn’t heard that, but that’s cute. Yeah. I think I tend to have I think. There is a temptation always in international affairs to characterize people in, to attribute certain characteristics to a nationality. But I think people are much more shaped by circumstances and and I think a lot of nations and countries have capacities for both good and bad.
And and it depends on leadership and the times that we’re in. But. I think Romania’s been fortunate in the last since the fall of communism to have chosen. A path that provides a lot of opportunities and open door that can bring in new ideas.
I think the important decisions were taken when Romania decided that it was gonna, cast its slot with nato, with eu, with the west.
[00:42:59] John Florescu: You strike me as someone who’s gungho and pretty optimistic is that I said shy and modest at the beginning, but now I say gungho and optimistic.
Is that the way you how do you feel about the job Because you have started really,
[00:43:13] Ambassador Kavalec: I. Yeah, I think it’s how do I feel about the job? I, it’s a huge honor. Honor, yeah. Yeah. No, I feel it’s a huge honor because I think it’s a a really great and positive relationship that we have.
As I said, that’s based on shared values. And that is something that can only get better, I think. And so I’m optimistic because I see progress, because I see commitment because I see, a deep belief in democratic values. Not every single individual, but I think overall Romanians know where they wanna go and they’re, trying to, paddle in that direction.
That makes me optimistic. We don’t have, deep divisions. It’s, we might with some other countries. So it’s definitely a pleasure to serve here. And to try to, contribute. So yes, that makes me optimistic. That and the time that I spent here before and yeah.
And generally, I think in the world we have to work for what we want and if we want is positive and good, then we have to put the focus on that because. There are plenty of people out there, busy trying to tear things down. We talked about disinformation, malign, influence, hate speech, all those things.
I think the best way to combat that is to focus on the positive and make things work. Find solutions, bring people together and that is the way to go forward.
[00:44:39] John Florescu: I think that’s a perfect summary and it’s a positive one. I know you actually have a household of expertise cuz your husband’s an expert as well in Romania.
Is he here with you as on, on this during this time?
[00:44:50] Ambassador Kavalec: Yeah. And he is as you say, he’s a retired diplomat. He, we were here together and my last tour his ties to Romania go even deeper than mine because his father served here at the US Embassy. Oh my God, that’s amazing.
Early sixties. Yeah. His father was at the Embassy between 1960. Three and 65, I believe. And so he actually attended the American School of Book rests in its second year of operation and near the old Embassy. Yeah. And it was for his parents, one of their favorite tours and always a point of reference in his life growing up, which is probably why we ended up coming here in the, when we did.
Because there was such a positive family memory about it despite the challenges of the time, when they were here. Yeah. And he is he is a bit of a writer and he’s working on diplomatic history of us Romanian relations. So he provides me lots of input and perspective in his work.
[00:45:52] John Florescu: That’s, that sounds fantastic. I can’t, it’s a perfect environment and although I suppose to some extent you can’t get away from work because you go home and discover some work subject to talk to over, over the dining room table. Anyways, I wanna thank you. That was a fantastic introduction for the viewers, for viewers and listeners and and I thank you very much for your
[00:46:11] Ambassador Kavalec: time.
Yeah. Thanks so much for having me and appreciate the chance to reach out. And thanks for all the good work that Alianta is doing. I think people to, people ties are what make the relationship work. So thank you and thanks to everyone who is supporting stronger US Romanian relations.
[00:46:30] John Florescu: Thank you again. Thank you for your time.
[00:46:32] Ambassador Kavalec: All right. Bye-bye. Bye-bye.