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Vol 2, No 24
19 June 2000
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Catherine Lovatt News from Romania
All the important news
since 10 June 2000

Catherine and
David Lovatt

The second poll of the local elections takes place on Sunday 18 June. During the week considerable interest has been shown in the election for the Mayor of Bucharest as the gap between Sorin Oprescu of Party for Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) and Traian Băsescu of the Democratic Party (PD) has shrunk to seven per cent according to an opinion poll carried out by IMAS. The survey showed that the majority of those who voted for the National Liberal Party and the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR) in the first round would opt for Băsescu in Sunday's poll.

Of particular significance is the number of those questioned who are undecided or will not exercise their right to vote - some 21 per cent. The main question for the second poll is perhaps not who people will vote for but how many will go to the polling stations to cast their votes. A repeat of the low turnout for the first ballot in the local elections can only throw doubt on Romania's potential to develop as a democracy.

Agriculture Minister Ioan Mureşan announced on Tuesday that the Romanian wheat crop for this year was estimated as being only 3.7 million tonnes. He cited the drought which has affected much of Romania since March as the cause. Mureşan said, "The situation is serious but our estimates show that this year's crop will be enough to meet domestic demand." (Reuters - 13 June 2000) Mureşan went on to say that the export of wheat would not take place during the coming year and warned that imports, if required, would only be facilitated through government agencies. He added that this year's harvest would begin on 1 July so as to minimise losses.

Mureşan's figures are criticised as being optimistic by experts who are suggesting that, because irrigation and the use of herbicides has not taken place, up to 80 per cent of the wheat crop will be lost in some areas. The National Meteorological Institute said, "We expect further significant drops in the contents of water in soil over the next days. This will cause fresh losses to the wheat crop." (Reuters - 14 June 2000) The government's agriculture crisis committee has assured the people of Romania that there will be sufficient milling wheat available to maintain the production of bread. Romanians were also assured that there would not be steep price rises in this basic commodity. Credit facilities were already available from France and US to enable the purchase of wheat on the international market.

The government have authorised that irrigation services should be made available free of charge to drought-affected farmers. President of the Romanian Farmers' Union (UNPAR), Gheorghe Predila, however has said this is far too late as it will take a least a month to set up the irrigation systems in the areas where they are needed. Predila continued, "To immediately secure the irrigation of over 800,000 hectares is basically impossible. There is also the risk of wasting money and energy by pumping the water across fields where the crops have already been burnt by the sun." (Mediafax - 15 June 2000)

The milling and bakery employer organizations believe that the bread price will rise dramatically over the next few months. They are also concerned that Romania is becoming a dumping ground to the detriment of Romanian producers. "We eat wheat from abroad, mad cows, chicken with dioxin, all sorts of foodstuffs that no one checks up on. We are talking here about this but the dice have already been cast, the imported wheat cargoes are already prepared," said the milling and bakery employers' vice-president. (Mediafax - 15 June 2000)

At a meeting of the Supreme Defence Council on Tuesday President Emil Constantinescu said that Romania was plagued by theft. He said this with reference to the effect of the drought on the wheat crop highlighting that sections of the national fuel pipeline and irrigation pipework had been damaged or stolen by generalised theft. Constantinescu added, "I discovered once more, that, in fact, in Romania there is a very serious phenomenon, that is a general thieves' trade." (Nine o'clock - 15 June 2000)

A European Commission (EC) delegation to Romania has found that a centre in Bucharest was home to malnourished children, despite the fact that the centre was given sufficient aid in November 1999 to last for nine months. The delegation, who are to refer the matter to the European Union Anti-fraud Office (OLAF) and to Romanian law officers, said in a statement on Thursday, "There is no reason for these children to be undernourished, unless the aid was hijacked." (Agence France Presse - 15 June 2000)

In February, the delegation had reported to the Romanian authorities that there was a significant shortfall in high-energy foodstuffs - such as honey and chocolate - which had been supplied to the centre for institutionalised children. Three months later and the delegation has still not received a response from the authorities.

The problems with Romania's banking industry continue with yet another bank, the Fortuna Popular Bank, deciding to suspend payments to depositors and to begin the process of liquidation. Investors have claimed that the bank was insured against loss with Asigurarea Naţionala Româna (ANR) and that this was set out in the contracts they had signed.

However, ANR director Vasile Banciu said, "The sums insured by Fortuna have gradually decreased and as there were suspicions as to the funds' management, ANR repeatedly requested that Fortuna be audited, which the credit cooperative persistently opposed." (EvZ - 15 June 2000) He added that because of this no new insurance contract had been signed.

Monitorul reported on Wednesday that National Christian Democratic Peasants Party (PNŢCD) member of the Chamber of Deputies Dan Barbaresso has accused PDSR and its leader Ion Iliescu of masterminding the collapse of Fondul Naţional de Investiţii (FNI). He cited the number of former Securitate officers who held managerial posts in FNI branches and said that the Iliescu regime protected them and put them in these posts. Barbasesso said, "PDSR, the master of the FNI disaster is responsible for the dramatic fate of hundred thousands Romanians." (Monitorul - 14 June 2000)

On Tuesday, 130,000 investors in the FNI had reported complaints to the General Police Inspectorate (IGP). Their investment in the FNI totalled some USD 1.1 million. The IGP have already identified 138 investors who made preferential withdrawals from the FNI amounting to USD 210,000 while 26 employees of the company have been found to have received illegal payments. Mediafax reported on 9 June that 36 out of 40 branch managers of the FNI were former Securitate officers.

At the beginning of the week the College of the National Council to Study the Securitate Archives (CNSAS) suspended its investigations until the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) allows it to have free and unfettered access to the files of the Securitate - the political police of the Communist regime. The CNSAS has said that it is to continue investigations into the candidates for the second poll in the local elections even though the SRI are hampering their activities.

A statement from the CNSAS said, "We have the certitude that SRI gives us the files pre-selected, incomplete and even modified in their structure and contents." (Monitorul - 16 June 2000) Mediafax reported on Thursday that agreement had been reached between the two bodies following the intervention of President Constantinescu.

President Constantinescu addressed the nation on 15 June to mark the anniversary of the miners' riots in 1990. He said, "A true civil war broke out in the capital city in June 1990. The authorities of that time directed part of the citizens against Bucharesters who were fighting for the democratisation of the country." (Reuters - 15 June 2000) He made sure that the audience understood that the authorities at that time were ex-Communists led by Ion Iliescu.

The miners were called to Bucharest by Iliescu to enforce his beliefs and to suppress any opposition - an opposition that had taken to the streets to ensure that there could never be another totalitarian regime in Romania. Television images throughout the week provided sharp reminders of the day ten years ago when six people were killed and many hundreds were injured - and as Constantinescu spoke hundreds of Bucharest citizens congregated in University Square to honour and remembers the victims. During his speech Constantinescu apologised on behalf of the state to everyone affected by the violence.

Iliescu condemned the television stations for broadcasting the President's message and accused them and Constantinescu of trying to undermine his image.

Military prosecutors led by General Dan Voinea are currently investigating the violent actions of the miners in Bucharest in June 1990. Their findings point towards action from within the state institutions to undermine Romania in its move towards democracy. Prosecutors have said that their investigations have taken such a long time because of the non-cooperation of the state institutions involved in the action of 1990. Former president Ion Iliescu and members of the cabinet at the time are to be called to give evidence to the General Prosecutors Office. It is hoped to finalise the investigation by the end of August.

And so we come back to Sunday's elections directed by the political nature of most of this week's stories. As with all elections, promises of every sort have been made. Bucharest Mayoral
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candidate Oprescu has promised to solve the problem of the homeless in the city. Oprescu said, "Should I not be able to find a solution I'll take them home with me, as I have plenty of space in my home." (EvZ - 12 June 2000) Oprescu lives in Primaverii - a residential area where the political elite tend to live. EvZ's correspondent had their tongue firmly in their cheek when wondering if this was "the most concrete and attainable campaign pledge made by all mayor-hopefuls so far"

Catherine Lovatt and David Lovatt,
17 June 2000

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Agence France-Presse
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