Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 11
6 September 1999

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

Catherine and David Lovatt

Romanian News Review for the week beginning 30 August 1999

1 September marked the start of a new school year. The most noticeable of many changes is that the schools are returning two weeks earlier than usual. Additionally, a smaller proportion of the education budget is now held and administered by the Ministry of Education, while a greater proportion is being devolved to the regions. Schools in remote areas are staffed by unqualified teachers and do not have access to mains electricity. The President, Emil Constantinescu, took part in the start of the school year by visiting the Tulcea area. He was present at the official opening of the pre-university school year at the Dobrogea Spiru Haret College. He also visited the village school at Nufarul where he met staff and pupils.

However, the academic year only began in 34 counties. In Bucharest, Iasi, Suceava, Botosani, Bacau, Neamt and Constanta the start of the school year has been postponed because of the meningitis and conjunctivitis epidemics. The position will be reviewed at the weekend. In the light of the epidemics the Ministry Health has recommended minimum standards for schools. These include the provision of clean drinking water from a sanitary, authorised source and functional and properly maintained toilets and facilities for washing hands. In the last two weeks 1800 cases of conjunctivitis have been confirmed in Bucharest alone, with 144 new cases being diagnosed on Monday.

On 31 August, the World Bank confirmed a loan of USD 44.5 million. The loan is to help fund the first phase of a project to restructure Romania's mines. The Mine Closure and Social Mitigation Project is to result in the closure of 29 mines that have been excessively costly to run. The project will also provide investment, job creation and re-training to revitalise the mining areas.

Reuters reported on 28 August that the World Bank have asked Romania to cancel two bills from a package presented to the government by the Agriculture Minister, Ioan Muresan. These bills, which were initially accepted in principle, were intended to support the continued growth of re-organised farming in Romania. The World Bank believes the bills would allow state intervention in the commodity market and were, therefore, in contravention of the Agricultural Structural Adjustment Loan (ASAL) agreement. The final part of the loan worth USD 150 million was due to be released at the end of August. Subsequently, under this level of pressure, the government withdrew the two measures.

It was announced on Saturday 27 August that the first instalment of the World Bank the Private Sector Adjustment Loan (PSAL), amounting to USD 150 million, had been released. The loan is to be used for the privatisation of state controlled companies and the re-organisation of the state banks and financial sector. The loan will also be available for the creation of a supportive business environment and to help fund the social costs of reform. On 2 September, the government accepted that the privatisation of 64 companies should be placed with investment banks and other approved agents. Tenders are to be determined in October.

Prime Minister Radu Vasile announced that, following the discussions with the World Bank, it had been agreed the government would begin to focus on economic and social reforms. Primarily, these would deal with the improvement of health and education services throughout the country. The infrastructure systems of the country will also be included in the reforms. Vasile said the government is to implement the reforms "with the Romanian citizens' interests to be prioritised from now on, not those of the state nor of the World Bank" (EvZ, 2 September). A working group, from across the spectrum of Romanian society, is to be brought together to work with the government in establishing the priorities of the development programme. Vasile has invited opposition politicians to take part. It is interesting to note that, although the government is to put the Romanian people's needs as priorities in this round of reforms, they appear to have had to secure the permission of the World Bank to do so.

This week the Prime Minister of the Moldovan Republic, Ion Sturza, has been in Bucharest meeting Romania's leaders. Speaking after a meeting with President Constantinescu on Saturday, Sturza said that a priority of his government was the development of strong relations with Romania. He believes this is particularly important if the Moldovan Republic is to move towards integration into the EU. The Romanian Ambassador to Chisinau, Nichita Danilov, said that a good pragmatic relationship existed between the two countries. (see this week's "Miorita" column on the subject of Moldova)

Sturza's discussions continued with Prime Minister Vasile on Monday when the development of infrastructure between the two states was the main item. Electricity supply was a key topic. Sturza said that Romania would become a major supplier of electricity to the Moldovan Republic. Payment for the energy received could be made in shares of Tirox Petrol, the state oil company of Moldova. Other links between the countries were on the agenda, with telecommunications, railway connections and a bridge over the River Prut being discussed. It is hoped that a treaty between the two countries will be finalised by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, Petru Lucinschi, the Moldovan President, spoke about the country's Language Day of "our Romanian language." Lucinschi said in an interview with the Hungarian daily Nepszabadsag that although the culture, language and traditions of the two countries are almost identical, this would not be enough to create a special relationship between them. He was concerned that if mention of a special relationship was to be included in the forthcoming treaty with Romania it could cause problems with the country's 35 percent minority population. (RFE/RL)

President Constantinescu met with a delegation from the US congress on 2 September. John Mica, a Member of the House of Representatives, presented the president with the text of a resolution, to be debated by congress in the autumn, which recommends that the US government either restructure or cancel Romania's debts to the United States. Constantinescu said the document is "the most favourable resolution regarding Romania within the history of the US Congress and in the Romanian history."

Later, the President met US Democratic Senator, Joseph Biden. In response to Constantinescu's comment that Romania had suffered losses of about USD 800 million as a result of the Kosovo conflict, Biden said that he was not sure that the Stability Pact was sufficiently detailed to meet the expectations of the countries of South East Europe who had supported the NATO action. He went on to say, "We will play a large part, but that large part will not be the same large part we play in NATO. Do not look to the United States to carry the economic burden as we carried the military burden. That is not going to happen. But we will do our share." (Reuters, 2 September)

Romania's Foreign Ministry is facing a crisis which could have a considerable effect on the country's standing throughout the world. Spokesperson, Simona Miculescu, said that the Ministry needs a further USD 10 million to meet its commitments this year. She predicts cuts of up to 30 percent in embassy staff abroad, an inability to pay fees to the UN or the Council of Europe, and a major reduction in promoting Romania throughout the world, if additional funds were not made available by the government.

The effects of the failure of the Senate to ratify the land restitution bills at the end of last week have made news throughout this week, with both opposition and government senators having their say. The stalemate was reached when chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Trita Fanita, blocked the restoration of land law on the grounds that the restitution of 50 hectares to each former owner would cause the dismantling of the former state collective farms. Democratic Party (PD) Senator, Fanita, was criticised by his party's vice-president, Bogdan Niculescu-Duvaz, because his stand was against the PD's policy.

National Christian Democratic Peasant's Party vice president, Vasile Lupe, who drafted the restitution bill is to demand a meeting of the leaders of the coalition parties to discuss Fanita's actions. Lupu said, "As for the matter of farming land restitution, Trita Fanita was unfair, to say the least." He went on to put the matter in context saying that "during the extraordinary session, Mr Trita Fanita started to debate the draft law carelessly as long as the Opposition had the largest number of members in the Committee. When the situation reversed, Mr Trita Fanita stopped the debates and asked that Mr Minister Ioan Muresan attend. When Muresan came, he asked for the situation. When the situation was provided, he demanded some time to study it. After he studied the situation, he refused to attend the debates saying that the atmosphere in the Committee was no longer parliamentary and he quit the debates together with the Opposition." (Medifax, 2 September)

A statement made by the Social Democratic Party of Romania said that they would do everything possible to further impede the bill and would subsequently take action to annul the law regarding the restitution of agricultural lands if they come to power in the next election. The bill was further threatened in the Senate when the Right Wing Forces Union (UFD) said they may block the bill. The story is far from over: discussions of the bill will return to the Senate when Parliament starts its new session on 6 September.

Considerable activity is being reported from Romanian trade unions to such an extent that the autumn could see many protests. As Romania approaches next years elections any action will put the government under extreme pressure. Education unions are prepared to take action if the principles of the accord signed with the government earlier this year are not met. Representatives of the Federation of Local Transportation Trade Unions (Transloc) are to meet the Prime Minister this week to make their demands. If the negotiations are not successful Transloc are understood to be ready with a range of protests which could end with a general strike.

Employees from the defence industries took part in country-wide protest meetings. They are calling on the government to give greater support to this sector of industry. The unions are also demanding that the lack of communication between the Ministries of Industry and Defence be resolved. They believe that this is depriving the industry of orders and, therefore, work.

450 miners, along with the trade union leader, Iorgu Mandres, locked themselves in at the Zegujani mine in Oltania on Tuesday night. Mandres led the miners in their protest against the National Lignite Company of Oltania in an effort to have their eight demands met. They are demanding 1.5 million lei (USD 150) for each miner and changes in the organisation of the mine to make it more profitable. Mandres has said that if the company refuses to negotiate the miners will go on hunger strike.

The Federation of the United Trade Unions of Romanian Television (FSUTVR) is to sue the Board of Directors of Romanian Television (TVR) for breach of contract. The Union believes that the implementation of the restructuring process will mean up to 65 percent job losses in the company, thus breaking the collective agreement. Cristian Hadji-Culea, Managing Director TVR, said: "The Board of Directors did not break the law in any way. I am sorry that one has to go to law to solve some unjustified questions when everybody wants the restructuring of public television. Restructuring is a moral question to Romania's citizens. This is why I am sorry for the fact that people did not understand the necessity to begin the process of modernising and making this institution more efficient."

Members of the Trade Union Federation for Research and Design picketed parliament during last week to highlight their belief that the government has no interest in the future of research.

According to a report of the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI), from June 1998 to June 1999, one of the main threats to national security was the destabilising actions of some trade union leaders. The report specifically referred to two miners disputes that took place earlier this year. The SRI report suggests that local trade union disputes could be used by unscrupulous leaders to undermine the state. Other sections of the report focused on corruption in privatisation dealings, border issues, such as drug trafficking and money laundering, and the actions of separatist mafia and terrorist groups.

As the week came to an end the autumn TV schedules were announced. Antena 1 offers the film Desperado, starring Antonio Banderas, and Julio Iglesias in concert. Viewers will be able to watch the X-Files every Friday on PRO TV, while TVR1 hopes to encourage a Saturday night audience with Surprises, Surprises with Andreea Marin.

As if Romania did not enough problems already, the Department of Local Public Administration warned that the country was to be faced, once again, with severe weather. Forecasters say that the terrible events of July could be repeated over the whole country.

Catherine Lovatt and David Lovatt, 27 August 1999


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