Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 2, No 9
6 March 2000

Catherine Lovatt C E N T R A L   E U R O P E A N   N E W S:
News Review for Romania
News from Romania since 28 February 2000

Catherine and David Lovatt

The chaos surrounding the resignation of Defence Minister Victor Babiuc from the Democratic Party (PD) continues into a third week. The PD have now nominated Sorin Frunzaverde, head of the National Tourism Authority as their choice for the Defence portfolio. This nomination has been submitted to President Emil Constantinescu and to the coalition partners for consideration.

The National Liberal Party (PNL), a member of the ruling coalition, still refuses to take part in any discussions on the office of Defence Minister until PD vice-president Traian Basescu formally apologises for accusing the PNL of meddling in PD affairs. However Mediafax report on 29 February that a press release from the PD seems to make some sort of apology. The PD say, "With respect to this entire situation, the opinions expressed by PD representatives emphasized both the stand of the party and some personal views. We address our Liberal colleagues, expressing our regret if some of these opinions damaged their public image." (Mediafax - 29 February 2000) By Thursday the PNL had announced that they accepted this apology and would be taking part in coalition activities once more. They agreed to meet with PNŢCD to discuss the office of Defence Minister.

The PNŢCD have no objections to the PD nominee but say the decision remains within the competence of the Prime Minister and the subsequent approval of the President. Party leader Ion Diaconescu said, "The opinion of the President will be quite decisive with regard to Frunzaverde being accepted or not to the Defence Ministry, as Constantinescu is the commandant of the armed forces and the chairman of the Supreme Defence Council, where the Minister of Defence is a permanent member." (Nine o'clock - 29 February 2000)

A compromise to the impasse was proposed by the President later in the week. He has proposed that Alexandru Athanasiu of the Social Democracy Party of Romania (PDSR) be Minster of Defence with Simona Marinescu of the PD taking on the responsibility of Minister of Labour and Social Protection. Moniturul suggests on 1 March that this proposal, which seems to have the approval of the PNL and the PD, will avoid any further crisis in government.

On Friday the Prime Minister said that he would not be acting as a mediator to help the ruling coalition members to solve the problem regarding the Minister of Defence. He demanded that the coalition members come to an agreement. The Prime Minister's spokesperson said, "Mugur Isărescu will answer constitutionally in a moment, but only after the coalition leaders come to an agreement and have a common official position on the defense portfolio." (Monitorul - 4 March 2000)

Meanwhile Prime Minister Mugur Isărescu met with the Commander-in-Chief of NATO forces in Europe, Wesley Clarke. Clarke said that Romania's role in Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina had shown its commitment to the Alliance and he offered NATO support to the Romanian Armed Forces whenever it may be needed. The discussions with Isărescu ranged from the Balkan Stability Pact to Danube navigation and also took in this year's budget plans and economic strategy. "The budget is extremely important for the Military reform," said Clarke. (Mediafax - 2 March 2000) Wesley Clarke would not be drawn on the Babiuc situation except to say that they had worked together over several years and had a good relationship.

The President became embroiled in a political controversy which seems to have set the tone for a long and hard run up to the elections which are to be held later this year. In a speech to a conference of pharmacist and doctor members of the National Christian Democratic Peasants Party (PNŢCD) President Constantinescu said, "I feel more terrorized by Ceauşescu's Securitate today than I did before 1989.... Today, I have come to be their victim.... Former Securitate grouped in Greater Romania Party (PRM) and then in Social Democracy Party of Romania have been conducting, for the last three years, a campaign of manipulating the public opinion, setting all of the debate topics for us." (Nine o'clock - 28 February 2000).

The PDSR demanded that the President withdrew his comments and apologised to both themselves and the Romanian people. A PDSR source said, "PDSR considers that these affirmations are seriously jeopardizing the democracy and the political pluralism by the hurting and libelous attack against our party and a large majority of the Romanian people." (Monitorul - 29 February 2000)

In an immediate reply the Presidential spokesman Rasvan Popescu told the PDSR that the President had nothing to apologise for and continued by saying that he had referred specifically to, "certain Securitate men and activists with the PCR Communist party who after Ceauşescu's execution found a new political patron in PRM and PDSR." (EvZ - 28 February 2000) Popescu listed some of the stories which had been raised against the President - he had been a CIA agent and was the second richest man in the country - saying that these libels had been used to take attention away from those who sought to make personal and political capital out of transition.

The PDSR refused to let matters rest and accused the President of damaging Romania's European Union accession prospects and then took the opportunity to join in the Babiuc debate to criticise the actions of Constantinescu and suggesting that keeping Babiuc in post would be yet another in a long list of violations of the Constitution. PDSR were joined in their criticism by the Alliance for Romania Party (ApR).

Senior partner in the ruling coalition PNŢCD defended the President and then launched a scathing attack on the PDSR. "Today, by well-tuned slander campaigns, we are presented as corrupt, incompetent, lacking faith in democracy. This is taking place while others use obscure financial resources to found banks with a registered capital of hundreds of billion lei, although their businesses were built on public money stolen from Bancorex and they live in villas that they acquired from the state patrimony by bureaucratic trickery. PDSR is trying to front itself as a party of angels, but we have to bear in mind that the closure of Bancorex, which was ran bankrupt by the PDSR administration meant putting a stop to a black hole in the economy that was absorbing the ordinary people's money." (Nine o'clock - 28 February 2000)

A further turn of events came with a PDSR press conference on Tuesday when spokesman Ioan Mircea Pascu accused the presidency of formulating a series of plans to prevent Ion Iliescu from standing in the forthcoming presidential elections. The plot was revealed layer by layer. The first step was to convince Iliescu and the public that it would be in the best interests of Romania for him not to stand. The next layer reveals a plan to encourage other PDSR members to put themselves forward as Presidential candidates against Iliescu - although these are not named. The third layer is to take the matter of Iliescu's candidature for President to the Constitutional Court. If all these fail the final layer of the plot envisages direct action against the person of Ion Iliescu - culminating in assassination.

Presidential spokesman Rasvan Popescu said that the President was dumbfounded by the allegations made by the PDSR. He went on to say, "The accusation is serious and it cannot be concealed behind anonymous sources.... The President is convinced that the PDSR has made a habit to concoct and attribute to the Presidency forged documents which are ever more childish and remote from reality. The President of Romania launches an appeal to Mr Iliescu to make an effort and maintain the political dispute within the limits of normality." (Nine o'clock - 1 March 2000)

Water supplies to the cities of Galati, Braila and Tulcea which come from the Danube were cut off at the weekend as the cyanide pollution came into their area. Although there is a continued decline in concentration of cyanide in the river system, following the incident at Baia Mare in January, no chances are being taken. Fritz Schlingemann, Director of the European section of the UN Programme for the Environment (UNEP) has brought a team of experts to the site to investigate. Charities such as World Vision and For Our Children have provided some bottled water for the inhabitants in one of Romania's poorest areas.

Meanwhile, a Romanian team of experts drawn from the water utility Apele Romane carried out an experiment to test Hungary's claim that tonnes of fish in the Tisza had been killed by the cyanide pollution. Environment Ministry spokesman George Lazea referred to the experiment in which water containing cyanide at the same concentration as at Baia Mare was poured into a pool containing fish. None of the fish died. He went on to say, "At the moment, without in any way wanting to defend those responsible for the pollution, or to minimize the consequences, we believe that the death of fish on the Tisza is due to other causes and that the accusations made against us are wildly exaggerated." (Agence France Presse - 2 March 2000)

Schools throughout Romania re-opened on Monday. Even so the teachers are not happy with the plans put in place by the Ministry of Education to replace courses which were lost during the strike. President of the Spiru Haret teachers' trade union Gheorghe Isvoranu warned the government that the strike had only been suspended. Education is to receive four percent of the Gross Domestic product this year as well as additional funding from outside Romania to ensure that the reform programme is successfully achieved.

The Minister of Education, Andrei Marga, who tendered his resignation during the strike, met with Prime Minister Mugur Isărescu to discuss his future. A spokesperson for the government said that Marga would remain in post until the end of this government's term of office. One of the first orders that he signed brought bad news for 13,166 teachers who have just returned to work. They are to loose their jobs as part of the cuts in education personnel.

As one strike comes to a conclusion another takes its place. Romanian workers from the defence industry held protest demonstrations because they were being laid off and because the cabinet had refused to guarantee their wages. Leader of the Solidaritatae trade union Georghe Sora said, "We will not accept being laid off. Without a strategy and with no orders, the industry is heading for the graveyard." (Reuters - 29 February 2000) The series of protests across the country came to a climax when thousands of workers gathered in Bucharest on Wednesday to demonstrate outside the government offices. They eventually reached Cotroceni Palace where they called on the President to use his powers to protect the defence industries and those who work in them. There are about 40,000 workers in Romania's defence industries. As a result of falling orders many members of staff have been laid off. In the ammunition sector only about 15 percent of the workforce are working while at a helicopter plant there is only work for five percent of the employees.

The Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR) has criticised a bill which was approved this week in the Chamber of Deputies. UDMR believe that the bill is contrary to the principles of human rights. The bill makes demands of visitors to Romania who stay independently in the country for more than 15 days and their hosts. Any visitor who does not stay in tourist accommodation, or with a host, has to report their presence to the police within three days. UDMR Deputy Ervin Székely said, "There is no need for the individuals who host foreign citizens to be compelled to file a report to the Police regarding an aspect of their private life." (Mediafax - 29 February 2000)

Last week we reported an opinion poll from Cluj which gave a lead of seven percent to Ion Iliescu in the presidential race. This week a new opinion poll carried out in Cluj by Metro Media Transilvania gave Constantinescu 29.2 percent with Theodor Melanescu (ApR) getting 24 percent of the sample with Iliescu in third place with 22 percent.

The poll also showed that if the Parliamentary elections were held now the PDSR would receive 20.1 percent of the vote with the ApR in second place with 15 percent while the Democratic Convention (CDR) were in third place with 14.2 percent.

A week is a long time in politics.

Catherine Lovatt and David Lovatt, 4 March 2000

Archive of Catherine Lovatt's articles on Romania and Moldova


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