Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 2, No 3
24 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 16 January 2000

Catherine and David Lovatt

The chairmanship of the Senate is raising controversy among the political parties following the appointment of former chairman Petre Roman of the Democratic Party (PD) as Foreign Minister. The office has to be filled before the new parliamentary session with candidates being proposed by several parties in the ruling coalition. The PD believe that their nominee, Dan Vasilu, should take the office as during the 1996 presidential elections Roman transferred his votes to Emil Constantinescu on the understanding that he would take the office of chairman of the Senate. The National Christian Democratic Peasant Party (PNŢCD) have proposed the current Senate vice-chairman, Ulm Spineanu, for the office. They believe that as the office of Prime Minister is no longer held by a member of PNŢCD they do not have to give way to another party in the ruling coalition. The National Liberal Party (PNL) have proposed interim Senate chairman Mircea Ionescu-Quintus as their candidate. PNL say that Ionescu-Quintus stepped aside for Roman, but not for the PD, following the 1996 elections. The Social Democracy Party of Romania (PDSR), the leading opposition party, are keeping their own council at the moment although it is believed that they may support Ionescu-Quintus.

A survey conducted by United States Information Service during last year showed what Romanians believed and thought about corruption. The survey showed that those questioned believed that the Army was least corrupt. However over 60 percent of the sample believed that the most corrupt institutions were those connected with the government. The survey also showed that although 85 percent thought that bribery was not a valid option 35 percent said that they used bribes to get results. 51 percent of businesses and companies surveyed said that they had used bribes in their business dealings.

In a hard hitting radio broadcast Prime Minister Mugur Isărescu criticised previous governments and the ruling coalition parties about the corrupt practices that were used, often by civil servants, to undermine the country's budgets. Isărescu said, "The budget is in a devastating situation...there are practically no budgets any more. There are only facilities, exemptions and corruption stemming from the law itself, as everything (facilities and exemptions) is discretionarily granted, everything is negotiated." (EvZ - 17 January 2000) Mircea Ciumara, Minister of State and Chairman of the Economic and Financial Coordination Council added that the present government intends to ensure that the current legislation is amended to prevent misuse. He added that unfair competition would be prevented and that taxation would be further simplified so that benefits would accrue to the tax payer.

This years budget should be finalised by the end of this month. Prime Minister Isărescu intends that it should respond to the economic situation as it really is without making unrealistic promises.

Bucharest council has itself been at the centre of stories this week which focus on actions which are illegal or corrupt. EvZ reported on Tuesday that it had sold apartments and villas for unrealistic amounts. The government had allowed the council to buy these units which had been used by diplomats. The council then sold them on at very low rates. Apartments valued at USD 10,000 were sold for about USD20 while villas valued at USD 100,000 were sold for USD 1100

PNŢCD have now asked Marin Luţu, Mayor of Bucharest's Fourth District, to resign from office as a result of the investigations into the illegalities surrounding the privatisation of the city's Open Markets. Last week Lutu voluntarily suspended himself from the party but refused to resign as Mayor. PNŢCD have said that if Luţu does not resign he will be expelled from the party. Prefect of Bucharest Ioan Iordan issued an order to suspend the Fourth District Council secretary general from office while these same investigation are carried out.

PNŢCD have also taken determined action away from the capital. The party's steering group have expelled the leader of the Dolj County Party following charges of bribery and are requesting his dismissal as Dolj Under-prefect.

Trade unions representing railway workers have announced that they will begin an indefinite strike next week unless their demands are met. They want wages increased by 50 percent a month and want further negotiations over their conditions of service.

The education trade unions met with Minister of State Ciumara to discuss the demands of the profession but after several hours the talks broke down. The trade unions are demanding that salary arrears are met, that salaries are paid at the correct time and that more resources and trained staff are made available for the education service. Salary increases are also in the list of demands together with some form of indexing to the USD exchange rate. Ciumara refused to accept the threats of strike action. Insisting that strikes would bring negotiations to an end he said, 'We can not work under the street's pressure and I would like that no disturbing factors get in the way.' (Nine o'clock - 18 January 2000) Trade union representatives expressed both anger and disappointment following the meeting and warned that major strike action could follow.

Although the restructuring of the National Coal Company is successfully proceeding with a significant reduction in its losses and with almost all of its debts reduced it has been done at a considerable cost to the lives of mine workers. In 1997 the Company employed over 45 000 workers - now there are only about 18 000. One of the regions most severely hit is the Jiu Valley. About 17 000 one time miners are unemployed with little opportunity of getting work. The end of the period during which unemployment benefit is paid has run out for most of these workers who, with their families, are living in poverty. Even emergency government aid has not prevented the community from asking to be disconnected from the communal heating system as they can no longer afford to meet their arrears and ongoing charges.

CONEL the National Electricity Company is seeking loans of USD 100 million in London to help it out of a severe financial crisis. Part of its crisis is as a result of the debts due to CONEL for the supply of electricity. CONEL supply the Moldovan Republic with about 10 percent of their electricity and now owe the company USD 22 million. The Moldovan electricity company were threatened that unless the debt is paid their supply would be cut off on Wednesday.

On Friday the Prime Minister met with other premiers from the countries which have common borders with the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FYR). The meeting which was to continue through the weekend was attended by NATO secretary general George Robertson. The main agenda items are the Balkan Stability Pact, the future of the FYR and the developing situation in Kosovo.

The epidemic of influenza which has swept across Europe is about to reach Romania. This year the strain seems much more severe as illustrated by the number of people who have been hospitalised by in France and UK for example. So far there have only been around 5000 reported cases with the worst of the epidemic expected to strike during next week.

The European Commission team which will look at Romania's child protection policies arrived in Romania on Tuesday. Vlad Romano President of the National Agency for the Protection of Children's Rights is to meet with the team to discuss how the EURO 1.5 million funding from the EU will be used. Romano is determined to use some of the funds to begin to develop policies to prevent the abandonment of children. He also wants to get agreement to use the funds to help homeless children.

Heavy snow falls and blizzards over Tuesday and Wednesday have caused problems across Romania. Many roads are closed and trains delayed. Snow has reached a depth of 85 cms in some areas while thick ice has added to the difficulties.

Rugby players Daniel Lazarescu and Adrian Ghita who refused to return to Bucharest following a tour of Ireland will face charges in a military court. The men both play for Steaua Bucharest Rugby Club which is still a military organisation. General Gheorghe Cernat, the Commanding Officer of the team said, "Both were army officers and had to obey military rules. But they deserted and will have to respond in front of a military court." (Reuters - 19 January 2000)

The Hungarian Democratic Union of Romania (UDMR) celebrated the 10th anniversary of its founding at the weekend with celebrations held in Tărgu-Mureş. President of UDMR Markó Béla said during his address, "UDMR was born when we were forced to face our destiny and assume the duty of carrying out Hungarian unity. During the last 10 years we did what we had to do and during the next 10 years we will do what we have to do not to be subdued to anybody." (Nine o'clock - 18 January 2000) President Constantinescu and Hungarian President Árpád Göncz sent their greetings to UDMR. Constantinescu praised the Union as a loyal political partner while Göncz spoke of the importance of the UDMR in the quest towards integration into the European institutions.

The death of Ion Ratiu was announced from London on Monday. Ratiu a leading figure in the PNŢCD died at the age of 83. He spent his political life in fighting for human rights and democracy in Romania. During the Communist era he endured exile and established the World Union Of Free Romanians which focussed the attention of Western governments on the abuses of human rights in Romania. Ratiu returned to Romania after the 1989 revolution and worked to establish Romania as a parliamentary democracy. He was for some years the deputy chairman in the Chamber of Deputies and led Romania's delegation to the North Atlantic Assembly. The President, Emil Constantinescu, and politicians from across the parties have joined together in honouring a 'remarkable political figure.'

Catherine Lovatt and David Lovatt, 21 January 2000

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