Vol 1, No 1, 28 June 1999
C E N T R A L E U R O P E A N N E W S:|
Romanian News Round-up
By Catherine Lovatt
Romania and the rest of Eastern Europe have been experiencing freak storms. Tragically, the weather has resulted in the deaths of 25 people in Romania alone.
On Tuesday, an earthquake measuring 4.3 on the Richter scale hit Vrancea County. A series of tremors have also been felt in Bucharest, sending the capital into panic and reviving memories of the 1977 quakes, when several people were killed and injured.
Floods and lightning have killed 14 people in Northern and Eastern Romania. In Buzau a landslide in a hillside village resulted in seven deaths, and on Wednesday, it was reported that 20 villages in the same region were without electricity. Soldiers and fire-fighters have been using shovels to dig houses out of the mud. In the northwest of the country, near the Ukrainian border, three people were killed by lightning. Heavy rain flooded farmland and damaged houses. Last week, the soaring temperatures resulted in a 76-year-old man's death from sun-stroke. The man dropped dead whil queuing to pay his taxes.
The unsettled weather, however, did not prevent Madeleine Albright, the US Secretary of State, from visiting the region. She arrived in Romania on Tuesday to discuss Balkan reconstruction after the Kosovan conflict. Both Romania and her neighbour Bulgaria are included in the proposed 'Stability Pact' aimed at promoting democracy and prosperity in Eastern Europe (see commentary article in this week's Central Europe Review). They will be meeting with the 15 EU member nations and 13 other nations in July. The international summit will take place in Sarajevo to work out plans for reconstruction. The summit was proposed by Germany and is an attempt to secure funds and political momentum to bring stability to the Balkans. Albright praised Romania for that county's help during the Kosovan conflict. Despite public unease the Romanian government had allowed NATO to use their airspace during the bombing of Serbia. Romania also took many refugees from Macedonia. Albright complemented Romania on her ethnic tolerance and said that Romania was the example that a new democratic Serbia should emulate.
The 'Stability Pact' will hopefully promote Romania for fast track entry into the EU and NATO. At present, the Romanian economy is verging on bankruptcy, and any method for securing funds would be beneficial. In this vain, the Romanian government has asked the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a further USD 475million worth of credits. On Tuesday, Romania edged towards an accord with the IMF, but the fund stressed that further improvements were required before the Romanian demands were met. Progress is needed to secure USD 350 million on the capital markets - a prerequisite called for by the IMF. The IMF also want faster restructuring of the troubled Romanian state bank, Bancorex. Romania has been criticised for its slow attempts to privatise and restructure industry after the fall of Communism and in this process the banking system has faced difficulties. However, new reform plans have been discussed for faster development, and in April, the IMF agreed to standby credits for Romania.
On Tuesday, the daily, Adevarul, published an opinion poll putting Romania's Leftist opposition ahead of the ruling Centrist coalition. This could make for very interesting parliamentary and presidential elections, due in November next year. The newspaper reported that 47% of 1,222 people interviewed last month did not yet know who they would vote for. In response, Constantinescu, who has seen his support steadily decline, addressed the Romanian Parliament on Wednesday. He pledged to improve the post-Communist institutions and to continue with overdue market reforms to ensure security in the turbulent region. He spoke of a decade of upheaval, highlighted this year by the miners' strikes and the conflict in neighbouring Yugoslavia. In reply to Constantinescu's speech, Miron Mitrea for the Party for Social Democracy said 'It was a political message to present the Romanian situation in rosy terms' (Reuters, 23 June 1999).
Thursday saw the Romanian Supreme Court reject an appeal by the Miners' leader, Miron Cozma, to suspend his 18-year jail sentence. His sentence, passed earlier this year, was for leading the miners on violent protests in Bucharest in 1991. Lawyers had asked for him to be released on the grounds that he had to carry out his duties as Union leader in the Jiu Valley, where miners face job losses as uneconomic pits are closed. An earlier appeal on the grounds that he had to support his family also failed. In January of this year, Cozma had once again led his miners on violent protests towards Bucharest. He now faces another six trials, including one for his most recent protests.
A new social and environmental project was launched on Friday. The programme aims to put orphans and the unemployed to work refurbishing Bucharest buildings that survived Ceausescu's demolition drive. The programme will provide these people with the opportunity to develop new skills and utilise them in the workplace. The scheme will also enhance the appeal of Bucharest for investment and tourism. The programme is estimated to cost USD 1.4 million and will be funded by local and central government, the EU and the UN Development Programme. The project will begin with the renovation of 40 nineteenth-century buildings in the centre of Bucharest. If successful, the project will be extended to other cities in Romania.
On a lighter note, the Romanian, Pavel, was defeated by the American seed, Agassi in the first round of Wimbledon on Tuesday: 6/1, 6/2, 6/3.
Catherine Lovatt, 26 June 1999
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