Individual local election campaigns began to take shape this past week. Candidates for Bucharest Mayor have been facing controversial questions from Evenimentul Zilei. The newspaper asked the mayoral candidates whether they agreed prostitution should be made legal. Varujen Vosganin, the candidate for the Rightist Forces Union (UDF) argued that prostitution should be taxed like any other business or declared illegal. The Romanian Democratic Convention (CDR) candidate, Catalin Chirita, opposed prostitution on religious grounds whereas George Padure, the candidate for the National Liberal Party (PNL), argued that prostitution should be regulated through the establishment of brothels. The Social Democracy Party (PDSR) contender was in favour of legalising prostitution as a means of controlling venereal disease!
Unfortunately, the PDSR Bucharest mayoral candidate, Sorin Oprescu, was overshadowed this weekend by the leader of his party, Ion Iliescu. At the official presentation of the PDSR contender last Saturday, Iliescu took the opportunity to criticise the present ruling coalition. He argued that they had not delivered the promises that had helped them to win the 1996 general elections. He also criticised "dirty" tactics that the government had supposedly used against the PDSR, warning that they could easily be reversed. The actions of Iliescu could be an indication of electoral tactics - using the local elections as a platform for the general election campaign.
Although political battles are likely to be intense and intriguing over the next few months, the representative parties in parliament all signed a fair conduct electoral campaign protocol, an initiative of the Pro-Democracy Association (APD). The signatories of the protocol (PNŢCD, PDSR, PNL, PD, UDMR, UFD, PUNR, ApR) agree to "a positive campaign stressing its own programs, avoidance of mud-slinging, avoidance of displays of extremism and intolerance, avoidance of attacks against a certain candidate or against minorities, building political platforms translated into realistic public policies, conducting a campaign observing the Romanian Constitution and its laws, and the origin and amount of campaign spending for the 2000 elections." (Nine o'clock, 24 April)
On 25 April, the Romanian Parliament approved the 2000 budget. The vote recorded 236 for the budget, 56 against with ten abstentions. (RFE, 26 April 2000) The main provisions of the budget are a three percent deficit, 1.3 percent economic growth and inflation of 27 percent. Article 31 was amended to allow 35 percent of revenue tax to go to local budgets, ten percent to local councils and 15 percent to county councils. The debate concerning the rise in salaries of dignitaries continued, but agreement was eventually reached. The PDSR amendments to article 12 which suggested that the pay rise should come into affect on 1 November 2000 were rejected. The UFD and PDSR opposed the adoption of the budget.
On 27 April, Teodor Melescanu, leader of the Alliance for Romania Party (ApR), asked President Emil Constantinescu to not accept the budget law. Melescanu argued that the provision raising dignitaries' salaries "ignores and shows a lack of respect to 85 percent of the population who are poor." (Nine o'clock, 27 April 2000) Melescanu stated that ApR refusal to vote on the budget was that it does not provide for economic revival and none of the ApR amendments were accepted. Melescanu urged Constantinescu to review the salary law before he accepted the budget.
The budget was the main topic of discussion with IMF delegates who were in Romania this week. Traian Remeş, Minister of Finance, said that the state budget is going to be the least "sensitive issue" discussed by the Romanian government and the International Monetary Fund. (Mediafax, 26 April 2000) The IMF are in Romania to discuss the extension of the first tranche of the IMF stand-by loan (see last weeks Romanian news review) which was due at the end of last year. During the IMF and World Bank spring summit in Washington (15 April to 17 April) a 60-day technical extension was agreed upon until the Romanian government passed their state budget. The discussions are also tied in with the receipt of the second tranche which is now expected in mid-May. The negotiations have been going well and are set to be resolved by the end of the week.
The Iliescu-Melescanu rift has brought in a new player. (See last week'snews review) The Democrat Traian Basescu declared on Sunday that Teodor Melescanu had been immoral when he suggested that a PDSR general election victory would be a step backwards for Romania. Basescu commented that Melescanu "is able to speak for three hours without saying anything at all." (EvZ, 24 April 2000) ApR was not impressed by Basescu's threats which could be construed as "an element that might support the affirmations made by the PDSR leaders in the desperate efforts of the Democratic Party (PD) to participate in the next government...." (Monitorul, 27 April 2000)
The "hot line" between Romanian and Russia has been confirmed as a secret deal between the former Iliescu administration and Russia. Iliescu, with the support of the Supreme Defence Council (CSAT), signed the agreement between Romania and Russia but the deal collapsed after the election of Constantinescu and his coalition government in 1996. Classified documents from the Special Telecommunications Service (STS) revealed ".... several documents signed by Ion Iliescu and his adviser on defence matters Gen. Vasile Ionel which okayed the beginning of negotiations for the setting up of a Bucharest-Moscow hot line." (EvZ, 27 April 2000)
In 1998, the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) allegedly allowed the Slovak Secret Services (SIS) to use Romania's communication channels with Moscow and Belgrade. In a letter between the then SRI head, Virgil Magureanu, and an SIS head, Rudolf Ziak, an agreement was outlined which enabled the SIS to temporarily use Romanian communication channels in order to help Slovakia "keep up the continuity of its relations with Russia and Serbia" and because "we are convinced that by supporting each other we will shortly be able to start the fight to put right the errors of our Western orientated governments." (EvZ, 24 April 2000)
The Romanian Foreign Intelligence Service (SIE) has denied allegations of the reactivation of General Pacepa, a Securitate Official during the Ceausescu era. The Chairman of the Foreign Intelligence Service Commission, Hori Vasioiu, announced that General Gavrilescu Ionel, who was reactivated in 1999, cannot be General Mihai Pacepa simply because Pacepa would have been too old for reactivation in 1999. Romanian law states that reactivation can only occur when the individual concerned is less than 64 years of age. In 1999, Pacepa was 72. Vasioiu declared that "Pacepa is not an SIE employee" and he would consider "an SIE-Pacepa cooperation impossible." (Mediafax, 24 April 2000)
Lord Irvine de Lairg, chairman of the British House of Lords met with Senate Chairman Mircea Ionescu Quintus on Monday. Lord Irvine stressed that Romanian chances for entrance into the European Union would be enhanced through reform of the Romanian justice system. Also visiting Romania was the French Minister for European Affairs, Pierre Moscovici. On 24 April, he met President Constantinescu, Premier Mugur Isărescu, Foreign Minister Petre Roman and other officials to discuss Romanian integration into the EU and NATO, which France is supporting. However, he raised concerns over environmental problems and the handicapped in Romania suggesting that these were the main obstacles to EU accession.
At present, Romania is preparing a further six chapters in their goal for EU admittance. This second set of chapters are scheduled for implementation in mid-May and concentrate on the rights of commercial societies, competition, consumer protection, statistics, culture, audio-visual and telecommunications. The previous chapters, upon which negotiations were initiated, were introduced in March. These concentrated on foreign policy and common security, international economic relations, education, professional training and youth, small and medium sized enterprises and science and research. (Mediafax, 27 April 2000)
Romania and Moldova are to initial their Basic Treaty in Chisinau. Petre Roman, the Romanian Foreign Minister, made his way to Chisinau on 26 April for the signing on Friday. It is here that Romania will also assume the rotating leadership of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organisation. Petre Roman is reported to have said that the Treaty goes beyond maintaining good relations. Instead the document "confines the special privileged relationship" between Moldova and Romania drawing upon their "community of history, civilisation, culture and language." (RFE, 27 April 2000) Roman also noted that the Treaty provides for mutual support in both nations' claims for EU accession.
Playboy magazine caused a stir in Romania on Monday. Dozens of men and women protested against an article that told people how to beat their wives. The article entitled "How to Beat Your Wife without Leaving Traces" was apparently meant as an April Fool's joke. However, the joke got out of hand and caused offence to many Romanians. According to statistics from the Interior Ministry, domestic violence is on the increase. Out of 110 women killed in Romania last year, over half were the result of abuse from a husband, boyfriend or relatives. (Associated Press, 24 April 2000)
Roger Daltry, the actor and former member of sixties band The Who is in Romania to shoot Vlad the Impaler - The True Story of Dracula. Filming is taking place at the Mogosoaia castle near Bucharest. Daltry plays János, King of Hungary, in the American production. The film is part fact and part fiction and is inspired by the fifteenth century Romania Prince, Vlad Ţepeş, who was famed for impaling his enemies on stakes.
Catherine Lovatt, 28 April 2000
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