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Report of the World Dracula Congress

by Elizabeth Miller

[A version of the following article was also published in LOCUS - August 1995. Copyright Elizabeth Miller.]

The first World Dracula Congress opened in Bucharest on May, 1995.

The opening ceremonies included brief presentations by (l-r on photo): Jean Marigny (France), Raymond McNally (U.S.A.), Elizabeth Miller (Canada), Nicolae Paduraru (TSD), Dan Matei Agaton (Romanian Ministry of Tourism).

The Congress was organized by the Transylvanian Society of Dracula (a historical-cultural organization based in Bucharest) with support from the Ministries of Tourism and Culture, the Romanian Institute of Military History, the Institute of Folklore & Ethnography, and the Santa Barbara (California) Centre for Humanistic Studies. The purpose of the Congress was to examine all of the many aspects of Dracula -- both in history and myth.

The Congress had many facets. The first was the presentation of scholarly papers. Although there were some problems with timing (we were always behind schedule, and papers had at times to be squeezed in and rushed), the quality of the papers was superb. They can be roughly divided into two groups. Most of the Romanian presenters were historians whose papers dealt with the real Dracula, Vlad Tepes. These attempted for the most part to address the issue of objectivity in the accounts of Vlad Tepes that have survived from the late 15th century. One paper, by Matei Cazacu (a historian at the Sorbonne), argued quite convincingly that Vlad was the first victim of printed political propaganda initiated by Matthias Corvinus and that he (Tepes) was a small piece in a very big political and economic game. A different type of paper on Tepes was given by the principal of the school in the village of Arefu (near Poenari), which has preserved the oral legends about the Impaler. He noted that for these villagers, Vlad Tepes is still regarded as a hero who rewarded the efforts of the villagers in aiding his escape into Transylvania when the Turks surrounded his fortress by granting them tracts of land in perpetuity.

The second major category of papers dealt with the fictional Dracula, the vampire Count of Bram Stoker's novel. These included my own paper on "The Genesis of Dracula", in which I argued that the connection between Count Dracula and Vlad Tepes has been greatly overstated, and that the roots of Stoker's vampire are not in Romanian history and folklore but in the 19th century British Gothic tradition. Raymond McNally (Boston College) gave a paper on the changing face of Dracula in the movies, while others were on more theoretical/literary perspectives such as the ambivalent use of violence in Dracula and Dracula as a Wandering Jew.And there were a few papers which didn't fit into one of these two broad categories: on topics such as the significance of Bran Castle, the building of the Castle Dracula Hotel in the Borgo Pass, etc. etc. There were close to 40 papers in all. Speakers included (in addition to those mentioned above) Radu Florescu, Silvia Chitimia, Gordon Melton, Clive Leatherdale, Jeanne Youngson, Norine Dresser, James Craig Holte, Carol Davison, Katie Harse, Clive Leatherdale, Eileen Barker, Mary Mulvey Roberts, Bernard Davies, Vincent Hillyer, Stephanie Moss, and many others. Guest author was Chelsea Quinn Yarbro.

The Congress, in addition to being a forum for the presentation of academic papers, was intended as a showpiece for Romanian tourism. The whole Congress was taken "on the road" so that the conference became a "moveable feast". The first two days were spent in Bucharest with opening ceremonies and two sets of sessions at the Hotel Bucuresti. There were many displays provided for participants and visitors with some top quality souvenirs. (The one rather "campy" item that I saw was a small container of fruit-flavored liqueur labelled "Draculina".)Unfortunately (but as to be expected), some of the media reports played up that sort of thing, though I found very little trivialization of the Dracula topic throughout the whole Congress. [I have seen more of this sort of thing during more recent visits, such as a medallion of Vlad sporting fangs, available in the courtyard at Sighisoara.]

After the two days in Bucharest we moved north towards Brasov, stopping for a brief while at Sinaia to allow a visit to the royal palace (Peles). Then we drove on through to Poiana Brasov where we had accommodations for the night.The next morning we had a full session of conference papers in Poiana Brasov. The weather co-operated fully -- in fact we had sunny skies and warm temperatures throughout (except for a couple of cool nights). That afternoon, after a pleasant lunch at the Outlaw's Hut, we were on the move again, this time to Sighisoara to visit Casa Vlad Dracul, the house where Vlad Tepes was born and spent the earliest years of his life. That night we were accommodated at two hotels in Tirgu Mures, neither of which was even close to the quality of the accommodations in Bucharest or Poiana Brasov.

The next series of papers were given in Bistrita, after which we travelled into the eastern Carpathian range to Tihuta, the area of the Borgo Pass, made famous by Bram Stoker as the fictional location of Count Dracula's castle. There is a hotel called "Castle Dracula Hotel", a rather pale imitation of a castle but an attempt on the part of Romanian tourist authorities to take advantage of the West's interest in the fictional Dracula. It was at this hotel that the final papers were given as well as a banquet and awards ceremony (I was the recipient of the title "Baroness of the House of Dracula" and my portrait now hangs in the hotel lobby). The next day, some of the group went on to Voronet (to see the painted monastery) before flying back to Bucharest, while others left by bus for the long drive back.

The Congress experienced many logistical problems, mainly because of sheer numbers. At its peak the Congress attracted over 200 people (half of which were media and many other "touristy" types who did not give papers but were there as "travel writers" etc). The most pronounced problems were running behind schedule (continuously), late arrival of buses, slow check-ins at hotels, confusion over luggage, and such matters. The presence of the media was most noticeable, with cameras everywhere and numerous interviews (I must have done 20 myself). There was, by the way, considerable coverage in the media (radio, TV and print) with a range in focus and assessment. I was particularly interested in the somewhat schizophrenic response of the Romanian press. [I have since given a paper on this at the Romanian Embassy in Washington and have included much of it in my new book, Reflections on Dracula.]

There was an optional post-Congress trip that proved to be one of the highlights of the whole experience. About 30 of us (most of the media had left) went to the village of Arefu (near Poenari) to spend the night with the villagers and to hear some of their folksongs and legends (about Vlad Tepes) and see folk dances. This was a wonderful experience and such a peaceful sequel to a hectic week of conferencing and travelling.

The next day 5 of us, reluctant to let it all end, did the trek up the 1500 steps to the fortress of Vlad Tepes overlooking the Arges valley. This, along with the short drive from the base of the fortress to the power station, provides some of the most magnificent and awesome scenery that I have seen anywhere. It is breathtaking! We five then drove to Tirgoviste to see the ruins of the princely palace of the Wallachian voivodes before returning to Bucharest for a badly needed rest!

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COPYRIGHT©2005 Dr. Elizabeth Miller