Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 12
13 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 5 September 1999

The River Danube was blocked at Calasari on Monday by members of the Association of Shipowners and Port and River Operators. This was to draw attention to what they see as a lack of determination on the part of the international community to clear the Danube for shipping. In the region of Novi Sad the river remains blocked as a result of the Kosovo conflict. This is leading to losses of about USD 1.3 million every month in shipping and river port income. Association Vice President, Mircea Toader said, "It was just a first warning. The next step will be the total and indefinite blockage of the Danube navigation." (EvZ - 7 September 1999) Transport Minister Traian Basescu expressed his support of the action saying, "My responsibility as a minister would be to keep the Danube open in the Romanian sector, but I will not do it because I agree with the navigators' protest." (Monitorul - 8 September 1999)

The action is also being used to show that the Romanian fleet is being disadvantaged by discriminatory action on the part of Yugoslav authorities. They are insisting that all ships from Romania, Bulgaria and Ukraine have special permits before they are allowed to use the Yugoslav sections of the river. Both Bulgaria and Romania have condemned this action as it is seen to be in contravention of the international convention on transport using the Danube.

The Bulgarian River Shipping Corporation director, Dimiter Stanchev, expressed understanding of the action. He went on to suggest that if the Yugoslav authorities were only allowing shipping traffic of certain nations to use a diversionary canal around Novi Sad, Bulgarian ports would institute licensing regulations for Yugoslav vessels.

The ships blocking the Danube were moved on Wednesday. The movement of river traffic beginning again by about 8 am. Toader justified the action by saying, "Through this protest, we wanted to warn the authorities against the violation of the Convention in Belgrade on the free traffic on the Danube river." (EvZ - 9 September 1999) He went on to say that the Romanian authorities were now prepared to speed up the implementation of new laws to support the country’s river fleet.

By Thursday, Romania had banned Yugoslav vessels from using all its waterways and coastal waters. Basescu said; "From today, the Transport Ministry will no longer permit access to any Yugoslav ship into Romanian waters. Blocking the Yugoslav ships is a necessity. Yugoslavia must know that when it is aggressive towards a neighbouring country, it runs the risk of getting a strong response." (Reuters - 9 September 1999)

There have been calls for the international community to provide funding for the clearance of the Yugoslav sector of the Danube. The Serbs, however, will not allow clearance to begin until the Western "aggressors" replace bridges destroyed in the NATO bombing campaign.

This week brought representatives of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank to Romania. These visits beg the question as to who in fact governs Romania. To maintain the IMF stand-by loan, Romania has to conform to certain economic conditions - determined by the IMF. To continue to receive the World Bank loan the government has to keep to other strict conditions - even to the extent of seeking permission for certain aspects of legislation. The government is also having to conform to other sets of criteria imposed by the European Union and by NATO, as they seek membership to these organisation.

The IMF team will be carrying out an analysis of the Romanian economy and examining whether the country is keeping to the points of agreement made on 5 August 1999. The results of this visit will determine whether the IMF release the second phase of the stand-by loan.

The World Bank team arrived in Romania on Wednesday. Their task is to look at the proposed legislation for the restructuring of agriculture. Although all but two elements of the legislation were approved by the government, the Prime Minister, Radu Vasile, suspended the 15-item proposal under pressure from the World Bank. They believed that some parts of the proposed bill went against the conditions of the Agricultural Structural Adjustment Loan (ASAL) agreement because it would allow state intervention in the commodity market. The Minister of Agriculture, Ioan Muresan, has already had discussions in Washington with the World Bank. On his return, he reported that the World Bank has approved only five of the proposed items of legislation. On Thursday, the government approved 14 of the 15 sections of the bill with wording that was acceptable to the World Bank.

IMF and World Bank teams arrived in Romania with the announcement of half-year economic figures. The inflation rate has already reached 33 percent - 8 percentage points higher than the estimate for the whole year. The exchange rate for the leu against the dollar has fallen by almost 45 percent - exceeding the forecast for the whole year by 10 percentage points. The balance of payments deficit is at a level of USD 721 million and the gross domestic product of the country has fallen by 3.9 percent. (National Statistics Board data).

The property and land reform debate has still not reached a conclusion. However, on Wednesday the President, Emil Constantinescu, gave his full support to the measures. The bill which will return houses, farms and forests to their original owners has passed through the Chamber of Deputies but is being delayed in the Senate where the balance of power is more delicately poised. Constantinescu said,"Romania will have property laws this autumn. Otherwise, any discussion about prosperity and European integration is completely sterile." (Reuters - 8 September 1999) To further this aim the president invited representatives of all opposition parties to join discussions with government parties on the bill on Thursday. The Romanian Social Democracy Party (PDSR), Romanian National Unity Party (PUNR), Greater Romania Party (PRM) and Alliance for Romania Party (APR) have all accepted the invitation but are doubtful about the success of the meeting.

The Central Committee of the PDSR has also taken the step of inviting all the leaders of the parliamentary parties to discuss land and property reform. "The PDSR firmly declares in favour of property and of the principle of making amends for the abuses during the Communist regime. But the question of returning property and of paying damages to those entitled to them is a question that concerns not only Romania's present, but also its future," said a communique from their press office.

Discussions of the bill in the agriculture committee of the Senate began badly on Tuesday when the PDSR and PRM walked out of the committee as a result of comments made to the chairman, Trita Fanita, by Paul Ghitiu of the Union of Right Wing Forces (UFD). The committee was further disrupted by the decision of the Hungarian Democratic Union of Romania (UDMR) not to attend the debates. Fortunately, the bill cleared the agriculture committee on Wednesday when Senators agreed that up to 50 hectares of land should be given back to former owners. An amendment to the bill was also passed which preserved the right of the state to maintain control of land which had been seized to create collective farms. This will cause considerable problems in implementing the bill and will create more uncertainty and political turmoil.

Political squabbling was not just confined to parliament. The National Liberal Party (PNL) are attempting to convince their coalition partners that the PDSR have to be isolated so that any chance it has of winning the next election is reduced. PNL leader Valeriu Stoica has said that this will only be possible if the partners work together. He went on to criticise one of the partners, The National Peasant Christian Democratic Party (PNTCD), because of the leadership crisis that has been affecting them. The Democratic Party (PD) have also attacked the government for their use of emergency legislation to pass controversial laws. The main recipient of their comments is the prime minister, Radu Vasile, who, in the opinion of the PD, uses this means of achieving his program too often. In future the PD will not support these government moves.

This week Romania has been creating stronger links with France. President Constantinescu spoke at the French-speaking countries' summit in Moncton, Canada saying that "Romania cannot be lectured anymore on the observance of human rights" (Monitorul, 7 September 1999). His argument was backed by Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the Secretary General of the International Organisation of French Speaking Countries, who named and shamed French-speaking countries with a blatant disregarded for human rights.

On Wednesday, Constantinescu met with the French Interior Minister, Jean-Pierre Chevenement, who confirmed French support for Romanian integration into Europe. Chevenement congratulated Romania on its modification of the criminal law system which should help to remove negative perceptions of the country. Later, Chevenement met with Vasile to discuss the Balkan Stability Pact and European integration.

Romanian-French relations were further encouraged when Constantinescu initiated a scholarship programme for French speaking youth in Romania. The announcement was made in Canada with support from the French-Speaking University Association.

A programme is also being established to better the life of Romanies. Peter Eckstein, Delegate Minister for national minorities hopes the plan will begin next year after government approval. On paper, Romanies are bound by the same legal responsibilities as all Romanians. However, they face social exclusion from certain aspects of life. This is partly a result of discrimination and partly from choice. The new programme will attempt to improve the Romany lifestyle through the development of their economic environment. For this to succeed, full acceptance and understanding of the Romany lifestyle is required not only from those instigating the programme but also from all ethnic groups living in Romania. More importantly, the Romanies have to want to change. The size of the task is immense. Last Thursday evening, two rival Romany gangs, armed with clubs, swords and stones, ransacked the town of Caracal during a fight for local power. The tensions between rival Romany groups underline how difficult it will be to reconcile Romanies and the rest of society.

Catherine Lovatt and David Lovatt, 27 August 1999


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