Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 15
4 October 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 26 September 1999

Brasov was the scene of gang warfare at the end of last week. Two rival gangs took to the streets armed with swords, Molotov cocktails and axes, in an attempt to control criminal operations in the city. Despite several arrests being made this week, the events in Brasov have led to recriminations and political argument. Although police and militia kept the rival gangs apart they were criticised in the media for not taking firmer action. The Prime Minister, Radu Vasile, added to the criticism demanding that the Interior Minister take action against the Brasov Chief of Police for an unacceptable response to the incident and for negotiating with the gang leaders. The head of Brasov county police, Mircea Bucur, refuted the allegation of negotiating with gang leaders. He said, "We warned the gangs heads to put an end to violence and disturbance... and informed them investigations will go on until all the guilty ones have been punished." (EvZ - 28 September 1999)

The Mayor of Brasov, Ioan Ghise, contacted Minister of Justice, Valeriu Stoica, to inform him of the events in Brasov. He was referred to the head of the local Prosecutor's office who, it is reported, could not be found. Ghise condemned the attitude of the prosecutors who have demanded hard evidence before taking action, despite people on the streets waving swords and axes. The Mayor also criticised the lack of co-ordination between police and prosecutors.

Gabriel Tepelea, vice-president of the PNTCD (National Christian Democratic Peasants Party) criticised the Justice Ministry and the Brasov Prosecutor's Office for their role in what he saw as the apparent breakdown of law and order in the city. Secretary of State in the Interior Ministry, Liviu Popescu, responded to questions in the Senate who said, "The law, the penal responsibility, or the possible sanctions were not negotiated, not even for a second." (Mediafax - 28 September 1999) Stoica reported to the Senate that the police had done a good job with the co-operation of the Prosecutor's Office. However, he did report that he had set up meetings between representatives of the Interior and Justice Ministries to look at improvements in co-operative and co-ordinated strategy, should similar situations arise in the future.

Things went from bad to worse for the Prosecutor's Office as the week progressed. On Wednesday Prosecutor Rusu Simona was disciplined as a result of not making a ruling on a case which had been before her since 26 August. She had been asked to respond to an aspect of the case involving a journalist, Tiberiu Patru. (Patru is the journalist who had video evidence in the case brought against two prosecutors from Craiova Prosecutor's Office for immoral conduct.) Then, on Thursday Prosecutor Bajenaru of Dolj County and Prosecutor Kelemen of Craiova were dismissed following disciplinary action. They were found to have failed to correctly inform their superiors of evidence regarding their colleagues involved in this same case. It appears that more repercussions will follow.

Craiova is the setting of another dispute, this time between the Association for Protecting Human Rights in Romania with the Helsinki Committee (APADOR-CH) and the Inspectorate General of Police (IGP). The dispute concerns events surrounding Cristian Venus Dumitrescu, an eighteen year-old student who, along with four other students, was arrested on charges of robbery. After an interrogation Dumitrescu jumped from the third floor of the Craiova police headquarters and subsequently died. APADOR-CH are questioning what caused the student to jump and have implied maltreatment. IGP have released a statement saying the autopsy revealed that the injuries sustained by Dumitrescu are those consistent with the fall.

On a more positive note, Romania's stand against organised crime, improvement in law enforcement and increased protection of human rights were acknowledged during a visit to Bucharest by Louis Freeh, the director of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Freeh was in Romania to have discussions with Interior Minister Dudu Ionescu and the Intelligence Service chief, Costin Georgescu. He announced that following approval in the US Congress a permanent FBI office would be set up in Romania. He said he was impressed with Romania's fight against crime and was grateful for the level of co-operation between the FBI and the Romanian police.

Richard Shifter of the Southeast[?] European Co-operations Initiative (SECI) was also in Bucharest this week. The SECI Centre will be opened in Bucharest and will lead the regional fight against corruption and organised crime. The importance of this regional centre being placed in Bucharest, was emphasised by a meeting between Shifter and Prime Minister Vasile.

Romanian President Emil Constantinescu spoke about corruption during his visit to France this week. Although he admitted that there were corrupt activities taking place in Romania he said, "There is no corruption at the level of the state." (Monitorul - 30 September 1999) He went on to assert that the state provided no protection for those who used corrupt practises and called on businessmen to report any illegal demand made of them. Constantinescu did not exclude foreign investors from his criticism. He said, "There couldn't be corruption if there hadn't been also foreign investors who directly, or especially indirectly contribute to the corruption phenomenon by using small Romanian parasitical structures." (Monitorul - 30 September 1999)

Constantinescu was to hold discussions with French President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Lionel Jospin to seek more support in the negotiations for EU membership. The Romanian President said, "During the visit I will thank France for the extraordinary political support it has given us in our efforts to join the EU and NATO, as well as in our relations with international financial institutions." (Agence France Presse) Constantinescu's team was also to seek new investment from French Companies following the recent successful agreements which have been made with Renault and Elf-Aquitaine.

President Chirac spoke on Monday about the River Danube. President Constantinescu had used the opportunity of his state visit to France to raise this issue with the French president. Chirac said, "This unacceptable situation must cease as soon as possible." He went on to suggest that Romania and France should make a joint demand to the G8 group and the EU to help solve the problem of the river blockage. The clearance of the waterway and the rebuilding of bridges destroyed during the Kosovo conflict is estimated to cost Euro 90 million. Romania's export and Danube shipping industries have lost hundreds of millions of US dollars as a result of the failure to clear the Danube.

The European Investment Bank (EIB) has included the Danube Waterway in its list of potential infrastructure projects for the Balkans. The Bank said in a statement, "The study focuses on roads, railways, ports, airports, electricity, oil, gas, telecommunications and the water sector, including the Danube Waterway, and is the culmination of four months work by the EIB's Balkan task force."

Chief of the Danube Commission Secretariat Helmuth Strassner reported on Tuesday in Budapest that the Danube will remain blocked until at least next spring. Detailed plans for the clearance will have to be made before fund raising can commence and only then can the work begin.

On Thursday, Romanian Minister for European Integration Alexandru Herlea met with Enrico Rasquarelli, European Commission Official for Romania and Bulgaria, and representatives of the European Commission and European Union. The meeting was to discuss Romania's strategy for joining the EU, the position of children in orphanages and means of improving the standing of Roma internationally.

The United Nations surveyor from the Commission for Human Rights, Racism, Racial Discrimination and Xenophobia, Maurice Glele-Ahanhanzo, met with King Florin Cioaba on Saturday to discuss discrimination against Gypsies in Romania. Cioaba told the UN representative that the only open discrimination that Gypsies faced was made by civil servants who often gave them different treatment from others. Glele-Ahanhanzo will prepare a report on the state of the Gypsy minority in Romania for the UN when he has obtained relevant data from the government and from the Gypsy community.


The International Monetary Fund has said that Romania is on the right track as far as its financial stability is concerned but still has a long way to go. Before the second phase of the stand-by loan is released by the IMF further discussions are to take place to address such issues as state sector wage structure and control, the restructuring of the banking system and private loans. Cristian Popa, Deputy Governor of the National Bank of Romania[?] (BNR), announced on Wednesday that Romania was hoping to raise the USD 450 million from private investors through new Eurobond and Samurai bonds. Popa said, "I'm quite confident that when we price and close (the Eurobond), which will probably be sometime next week, we'll have a good deal. But I cannot reinforce enough that this is a best-effort attempt. You cannot make the market yield USD 450 million if they don't want to. It's tough going but we're doing all we can."(Reuters - 29 September 1999)

On Tuesday the Finance Ministry took the first steps towards a new tax system which would bring the country into line with other European countries. They announced that they were soon to launch a programme of advertising which would take the details to all Romanians. The tax system which was approved by government last month will take account of all elements of income and will make a tax assessment accordingly.

Agriculture Minister Ioan Muresan announced that the government is to provide vouchers to farmers worth a total of USD 24.4 million. The vouchers will pay for diesel fuel and will be available to farmers who grow cereal crops. "Having in mind the high price of the diesel oil and the shortage of funds in the farming sector we consider appropriate to support farmers through vouchers with a total value of 400 billion lei," said Muresan (Reuters - 27 September 1999) The government are seeking an increase in cereal production next year.

The government approved a bill this week which amended criminal law to bring it more into line with EU law. The bill caused controversy when it was presented to parliament. One of the proposals was to amend the law that makes homosexual acts illegal. PNTCD vice president Vasile Lupu, said that maintaining this element of the penal code would bring Romania into conflict with the EU as it would be regarded a breach of human rights. Senator Ion Predescu of the Romanian Social Democracy Party (PDSR) said that his party would never accept this change and neither would parliament. However, Andrei Chiliman, Vice-President of the Chamber of Deputies was sure that the bill would be accepted by parliament. The bill also removes the offence of affront to authority and makes sexual harassment illegal.

Michael Holscher of Population Services International (PSI) presented their most recent survey, "Love in the 90s" this week. Their survey showed that only 37 percent of unmarried men and 22 percent of unmarried women who were sexually active used a condom. The survey also revealed that most of the respondents to the survey knew of the dangers of AIDS. A PSI spokesperson said, "It is a gamble, a real Russian roulette where losing is dying."

Amid the financial stringency of the country, a report from the European Environmental Agency says that tap water in Bucharest is the cheapest in Europe. The average annual charge to a citizen of Romania's Capital is Euro 20 (the most expensive, Brussels, is Euro 287). Unfortunately for Romanians, their water is also the most expensive in Europe. The annual average charge is 3.5 percent of the gross domestic product when worked out on a per capita basis (the cheapest is Oslo at 0.2 percent).

Catherine Lovatt and David Lovatt, 2 October 1999


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