Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 2, No 2
17 January 2000

Catherine Lovatt C E N T R A L   E U R O P E A N   N E W S:
Romanian News Round-up
News from Romania since 9 January 2000

Catherine and David Lovatt

Presidential approval for the land restitution law was given in a live television broadcast on Monday of this week. During the broadcast President Emil Constantinescu said, "10 January 2000 enters history as the day when the ancient lands are returned to their owners after decades and decades of years of thefts, abuses and illegalities. The most serious were committed by Communists, who banned the right to ownership." (Nine o'clock - 12 January 2000) The President went on to confirm that many families in Romania would have up to 50 hectares of farm land and 10 hectares of forest returned to them - hopefully within the year. He thanked the supporters of the law, which was originally proposed by Vasile Lupu, but condemned the opponents of the law, making particular reference to the Social Democracy Party of Romania (PDSR), The deputy chairman of the PDSR, Ioan Mircea Pascu, clearly stated that his party would change the land restitution law when they came into government. He criticised the President for the manner in which he formally approved the law on television, implying that this was only a political stunt designed to discredit the PDSR in the year of the general election.

In response to this criticism, Presidential spokesperson Rasvan Popescu said that the President was appalled by the comments of the PDSR, who appeared to want to take away from people the right to have their own land returned to them. Popescu said, "President Emil Constantinescu was right in directing attention to those who intend to prevent the peasants from getting back their rights to land and forests." (Mediafax - 12 January 2000)

Other criticism of the Isârescu regime has come from PDSR member of the Chamber of Deputies, Florin Georgescu. He labelled both Isârescu and Finance Minister Decebal Traian Remes as outlaws who take from the poor to give to the rich, when commenting on the new government's financial programme.

The problems faced by the senior party in the ruling coalition seem to be getting worse. The dismissal of Radu Vasile as Prime Minister and his subsequent expulsion from the National Christian Democratic Peasant Party (PNŢCD) has created tensions amongst his supporters, who remain as party members. Opponents of Vasile, led by Remus Opris, are trying to remove Vasile's supporters from the PNŢCD leadership. His supporters are attempting to have the former Premier restored to his party role of general secretary. Attempts to decide on a date for the election of a new leadership ended in deadlock earlier this week. It will now be left to the Permanent Delegation of the PNŢCD to deal with the leadership issue at the end of January.

The PNŢCD decided to expel two Bucharest councillors and to accept the self-imposed suspension of Marin Lutu, mayor of the fourth district, during the week. The two councillors failed to follow the instructions of their party and resign from a company which is alleged to have illegally won a privatisation contract for city markets. Lutu, who will remain suspended until the investigation of the privatisation deal is complete, told EvZ that he has not suspended himself from his mayoral duties, as he was elected by the people to carry out those duties.

Petre Roman, leader of the Democratic Party (PD), is to be joined by other senior members of his party in Iasi next week to launch 'The Declaration for Moldavia'. In this election manifesto the party leaders set out their aspirations for this part of Romania, paying particular attention to issues such as the decline in living standards and corruption.

On Tuesday, representatives of the trade union confederations BNS, Cartel Alfa, CSDR and CNSLR-Fratia met with the Prime Minister, Industry and Trade Minister Radu Berceanu and Mircea Ciumara, Minister of State and Chairman of the Economic-Financial Co-ordination Council. The trade unions proposed a method of pension adjustment and called for a national minimum monthly wage of 700,000 lei (USD 38) to be announced on 20 January. They also condemned the government's decision to create a single level of VAT, the effect of which will be to increase the price of staple foods by 8%. The Trade Unions also made representation that they should be involved in discussions with the government about this year's draft budget.

This meeting followed a meeting that the Prime Minister had on Monday with the Romanian Association of Businessmen (AOAR). The representatives of this association discussed the problems of the government's fiscal proposals and raised specific issues which included excessive bureaucracy and the inequality of investment regulations between Romanian and foreign investors.

Representatives of small and medium sized companies postponed a strike, in which they intended to refuse to pay their taxes, after Prime Minister Isârescu agreed to meet them to discuss their problems. The strike might still go ahead, however, at the end of the month.

Student Union representatives from Bucharest University and Polytechnic have called for Prime Minister Mugur Isârescu to meet with them before the end of January to discuss their grievances. The students have been campaigning for some time to get improved grants and want the new government to support their demands.

The Romanian Farmers Association is also seeking an urgent meeting with Isârescu in an attempt to solve the problems of the food and farming industries. A representative of the association has indicated that only about 40% of the funds required to carry out Spring soil preparation will be available to farmers.

A recent survey has shown that 80,000 people were made redundant by 2660 previously state-owned companies, following privatisation in the three years from 1996 to 1998. At the same time, many of the 3245 privatised companies involved in the survey showed an increase in profits.

Civil Service Minister Vlad Rosca announced on Tuesday that major energy supplier Termoelectrica would cease production on 2 February 2000 as it had no funds to purchase further production materials. Rosca said, "I do not even want to think of such a situation." (EvZ - 12 January 2000)

As a first step, on Monday the heat supplied by Thermoelectrica to the Bucharest network was reduced by 30 degrees Celsius. Virgil Ramba of the RADET agency said, "Under these circumstances it is very difficult to ensure the comfort of Bucharest inhabitants in their flats, considering the low temperatures outside." (Nine o'clock - 11 January 2000)

Romano Prodi, the President of the European Commission, and Geunter Verheugen, the Commissioner for European Union (EU) expansion, arrived in Bucharest on Wednesday to review the progress being made by Romania towards EU accession talks. They will be specifically interested in looking at the proposals for protection of institutionalised children and the medium term financial strategy. Both officials are to meet Prime Minister Isârescu and will discuss the programme adopted by the new government. Fokion Fotiadis, Head of the Delegation of the European Commission in Romania said, "This is the first visit of President Prodi and Commissioner Verheugen to a country opening accession negotiations in 2000. The fact that Romania is the first country to be visited this year demonstrates the importance we attach to the negotiation process with Romania." Following meetings with Prime Minister Isârescu and leaders of the political parties and trade unions on Thursday, Prodi said, "I was happy to learn that all of them are united in this idea. We will start our conversations and our deals with a deep involvement and strong engagement in this country. And, on our side, we will have the same involvement." (Reuters - 13 January 2000) However, Prodi warned the Romanian people that the process of negotiation and eventual integration into the EU would be a difficult for everyone.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MAE) is to challenge Prodi and Verheugen over the issue of visa controls. Romanian citizens often experience considerable difficulty in obtaining a visa to travel in the EU area. this problem has been made worse after the announcement by the Polish government that Romanian citizens will now need visas to enter Poland. As a candidate for accession to the EU, Romania is to insist that it is treated in the same manner as other candidate nations with regard to visa requirements.

The National Statistics Board revealed on Tuesday that the rate of inflation last year had increased to 54.8%. Of particular significance was the 94.7% price increase across the service sector, while food prices increased by 36.7%. On top of this, the year has seen a devaluation of some 10% in the value of the Romanian currency. Analysts suggest that the economic situation of the country means that inflation could remain high next year, although the government is determined to achieve a year end inflation target of between 25 and 30%.

Wednesday saw the beginning of legal proceedings against General Mihai Chitac on the charge of second degree murder. During demonstrations against the Iliescu presidency outside the Interior Ministry in June 1990, Chitac is alleged to have ordered troops to fire on the crowd, as a result of which four people died.

Romania has been hit by a new gambling craze - television bingo. Following the success of television station Antena 1 with its bingo programme, other stations have been quick to jump on the bandwagon, with National Television and Pro TV both joining in. In a show which went on air on 26 December 1999, USD 1 million was the prize - no wonder people are playing.

Catherine Lovatt and David Lovatt, 14 January 2000

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