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Romanian Girls Say They Chose Cheerfulness Over Gloom

April 8, 1987

NEW YORK (AP) _ Two 16-year-old Romanian acrobats who ran away from the circus to embrace American freedom and the ″cheerfulness in the air″ made their plea for political asylum at an Immigration and Naturalization Service hearing Wednesday.

″The girls’ applications were well received,″ said one of their lawyers, Ronald J. Fleury. ″There were no assurances, but the examiner, Viola Stout, phrased the outlook as optimistic.″

A final decision could come in about 30 days, he said.

The defectors, Carmen Georgescu and Julia Catrinoiu, both of Bucharest, were part of an 18-member troupe of young Romanian gymnasts and acrobats touring this season with the Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey Circus.

They arrived Dec. 8 and ran away Feb. 3 when the circus reached Atlanta, said another lawyer, Henry M. Holzer.

The girls said they were made virtual prisoners and were slapped around and branded traitors by the troupe leader when they began questioning what they had been told about life in the United States.

The Romanian girls have complete backing of their parents, who have told them by telephone to fight to remain in the United States ″while they take the heat″ in Romania, Holzer said at a news conference.

Julia said that while the circus was in Florida, she made herself fall twice on purpose, once from atop an elephant, to be hospitalized and escape the control of the troupe leader, George Dimitri.

When the circus train stopped in Atlanta, the girls slipped away when Dimitri’s wife, who was supposed to be watching them, left them unattended for a few minutes, said the girl’s interpreter, Mary Roberts.

The girls, knowing only a few words of English, were befriended first by an old woman who let them use her telephone to call their parents, Holzer said. Carmen’s mother gave her daughter the telephone number of a cousin, Michael Florea, in Fairfax, Va.

The girls stayed overnight at an inn and were put on a plane to Washington by the hotel manager.

Florea, an engineer who went on a 28-day hunger strike to get permission to emigrate from Romania in the 1960s, has been awarded custody of the girls.

In their affidavits, Carmen and Julia spoke of their first impressions of the United States after landing in New York. ″As we moved from the airport and through the town and other areas, we realized that there were no riots in the streets, that people were not wearing rags and eating garbage and that black people were not in chains,″ they said.

The translator told reporters ″they found out that everything they were told before was a lie, that there is total freedom of communication and there is a cheerfulness in the air.″

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