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

Catherine Lovatt M I O R I T A:
Waiting for the Pay-back
Romania awaits entry to the "rich man's club" after her Kosovo stance

Catherine Lovatt

Stability is an essential prerequisite for economic prosperity and political confidence and the Kosovo conflict has threatened the solidity of the already weak countries of Southeast Europe. Horrific stories of mass executions and of a people being driven from their homeland aroused exaggerated fears amongst neighbouring nations. Hankering after security, support for the NATO action came from all sides. In Romania, the cost of participating in the conflict is apparent. But have assurances of fast track promotion into NATO and the EU exceeded Romanian economic and political realities?

"There are all the conditions for a catastrophe that must not occur. Those who support Yugoslavia in their hearts ignore the fate of the Albanians, and seem to forget that there are also hundreds of thousands of Romanians living in Yugoslavia and unable to freely express their Romanian feelings, as they also seem to forget that Romania has expressed its clear option for the values NATO defends, for its admission to NATO, the only organisation that can ensure Romania's security" said Victor Babiuc, the Romanian defence minister, outlining the motives behind Romanian involvement in Kosovo.

According to Babiuc, involvement was initiated by fear. Fear of national insecurity, fear for the safety of Romanian minorities in Yugoslavia and fear of a widespread Balkan catastrophe. However, Romanian support for the NATO mission in Kosovo did not develop purely from fear. Desire to achieve international recognition as a stable democratic nation has been the main force behind Romania's domestic and foreign polices. Membership of NATO and the EU are seen as a means of gaining international prestige. The Kosovo conflict provided Romania with the opportunity to enhance relations with NATO.

For NATO, Romania provided a valuable strategic position. Bordering Serbia, she was particularly useful if a land attack had been required and she also had invaluable air space. Fostering relations with Romania was not an arduous task. Benefits were to be reaped from both sides but with one major difference. NATO was immediately advantaged by Romanian support whilst Romania relied on promises for future aid and development.

Despite this uncertainty, Romanian backing for the NATO initiative was forthcoming. In order to relieve pressures on Macedonia and Albania, Romania volunteered to accept up to 6000 refugees from Kosovo. As a reward for their assistance, an extra USD 6 million was loaned by America to help accommodate the refugees. NATO was unable to offer any further financial help. On 16 April, US deputy secretary of state, Strobe Talbott, officially thanked Romania for their aid.

Not only did Romania accept refugees from Kosovo, but they also granted NATO unlimited use of Romanian airspace. NATO aircraft had unofficially infringed upon Romanian airspace raising concerns over the safety of regulated domestic flights and national security. To alleviate future problems the Romanian parliament resolved to allow unrestricted over-flight clearance to NATO aircraft. They requested that the government continue to set up a framework of adequate security and continue seeking assistance to remove the negative effects of the conflict. Parliament also reiterated its desire to join NATO.

The conclusion of the bombing brought NATO requests for further backing. The Alliance suggested that Romania, as a member of the Partnership for Peace, should take part in a post-conflict peacekeeping force in Kosovo organised in a similar fashion to that in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Initially, NATO soldiers would intensify the peace efforts, followed by peacekeeping forces from participating states.

Although Romania did not become directly involved in the military action, much was done to assist NATO. Parliamentary support was paramount. In a declaration on the situation in Yugoslavia, the Romanian parliament called for conditions that would end the NATO action and return all sides to the negotiating table. They asked for an end to violence and persecution but requested that the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia maintain its territorial integrity and sovereignty. The final negotiated solution must respect minority rights and the safety of returning refugees. Again, the declaration reiterated Romanian desires to join NATO as a means of guaranteeing national security. However, parliamentary backing was not wholly representative of the nation. Protests against the NATO action were publicly displayed, but opposition was small.

In reward for assisting NATO, Romania was assured fast track entry into NATO and the EU. She was also promised aid to help rebuild economic and political stability in the Balkans. At present, little benefit has been reaped. Nonetheless, thanks and praise have been forthcoming. Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Madeleine Albright and many others have complemented Romania for their stance. On a visit to Romania in June, Albright, the US Secretary of State, said that Romania's involvement in the Kosovo conflict was a sign that Romania becomes "part of the NATO family." (Rompres, 22 June 1999). However, these are mere words. Until positive and influential action is taken Romania remains just another country wishing to aspire to the prestigious heights of NATO and EU membership.

Romanian political and economic realities have worsened since the onset of the Kosovo crisis. Words and promises of help cannot resolve Romania's problems. Just as in Bosnia, promises of assistance have, so far, come to nothing. The Kosovo conflict hit the already weak Romanian economy hard. At the end of April, the conflict had cost the Romanian economy USD 730 million. This has since increased. Danube blockages and diminished relations with Yugoslavia continue to damage the export industry. The oil embargo has also caused severe losses. This has resulted in increased prices for Romanian goods both domestically and abroad. Consequently, the Romanian "period of austerity" has intensified, further destabilising the economy and reducing levels of outside investment. Economic difficulties have raised opposition to the present government creating greater political instability.

Although economic and political problems abound, the Kosovo conflict has helped improve Romania's diplomatic relations with other East European countries and those farther afield. A tripartite agreement united Bulgaria, Romania and Greece and connections with Slovenia, Hungary and Poland also improved. Security for each of these nations is vital. The Kosovo conflict threatened their precariously balanced positions. Uniting together helped to secure against the intimidating proposal of a Belarus-Yugoslav-Russian Union. Ion Diaconescu, leader of the Christian Democrat National Peasant Party argued that the Union was "an attempt to bar NATO's way to the Balkans and restore Russia's influence in the Balkan area" (Rompres. 14 April 1999).

Romania's diplomatic relations have also improved with France and America, both of whom ardently support Romanian admission to NATO. However, to coin a phrase, actions speak louder than words.

The Kosovo conflict provided Romania with the perfect opportunity to impress NATO and the EU. Romania used issues of security and her strategic position to promote membership into the Euro-Atlantic organisations. Romanian success remains to be seen. Promises have been made but little action taken. Verbal support is plenty, but entry into NATO remains illusive. Romanian desires to join NATO and the EU have superseded the resolution of domestic problems. Involvement in the Kosovo conflict intensified economic and political difficulties with limited noticeable gain. However, conflict will of its nature bring widespread economic disruption. Had Romania been neutral, the country would be facing economic and political hardship without any promise of assistance.

Catherine Lovatt, 20 September 1999




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