Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 16
11 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 3 October 1999

At the end of a week of political controversy, the official ceremony to lay the foundation stone for the Park of Romanian-Hungarian Friendship was planned to take place in Arad. The central feature of the park would be the Liberty Monument. This is a statue dedicated to 13 Hungarian Generals who led a revolution against the Habsburg Empire in 1848 to 1849. They were subsequently defeated and executed. The monument is cherished by Hungarians and Hungarian nationalists who celebrate the event each year. The Romanian government of 1924 had the monument dismantled and removed. The present government returned the statue to the Order of Minorities, a Catholic Church group which also controls Arad Cathedral.

It was expected that Prime Minister Radu Vasile and his Hungarian counterpart, Viktor Orban, would take part in the opening ceremony. Although no official statement has been made Vasile appears to have delegated the duty to Deputy Premier and Justice Minister Valeriu Stoica. Consequently, Orban has refused to visit Arad for the ceremony. Instead he was represented by Hungarian Justice Minister Ibolya David. Political pressure was placed on Vasile from many sources. Romanian Social Democratic Party (PDSR) leader Ion Iliescu, said that the statue is "against Romanians" and is "dedicated to eternal Hungary." He went on to say it was "a very serious and unacceptable political matter, which has anti-national meaning." (Mediafax - 5 October 1999) Corneliu Vadim Tudor of the Greater Romania Party (PNR) said, "Those 13 (Hungarian) generals were butchers of the Romanian people. They destroyed more than 280 Romanian villages [in Transylvania.]" (Reuters - 5 October 1999)

RFE reported on 6 October that the ceremony to lay the foundation stone was cancelled. A Mass, attended by the Justice Minister, was read for the dead generals and wreaths were laid. Members of the PNR demonstrated against the commemoration and called for the death of Bishop Laszlo Toekes. A Spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry, Simona Miculescu, said that the relationship between Hungary and Romania remained good. She called "the manipulation of national sentiment for the purpose of building political capital irresponsible," and said that "fear of historical shadows or the shadows [cast by] statues," should not affect the developing links between the two countries. (RFE - 6 October 1999)

History in Romanian schools has been subject to much political and academic debate following the introduction of a new history text book for the 12th form. The book, which is published by Sigma, was approved by the Ministry of Education towards the end of August. The way it deals with the revolution of December 1989 and the subsequent events up to the present day have been strongly criticised. Independent senator, Sergiu Nicolaescu, said: "The book should be burned in public"(EvZ - 6 October 1999).Central Europe, Eastern Europe, Catherine Lovatt, Romania, Romanian, Arad, Park of Romanian-Hungarian Friendship, Radu Vasile, Viktor Orban, Valeriu Stoica, Romanian Social Democratic Party, PDSR, Ion Iliescu, Hungary, Hungarian, Corneliu Vadim Tudor, Greater Romania Party, PNR, Party of National Romanian Unity, PUNR, Democratic Party, PD, National Salvation Front, FSN, Christian Democratic National Peasant Party, PNTCD, The Hungarian Democratic Union of Romania, UDMR, Emil Constantinescu, opinion poll, Rugby Union, Alliance for Romania, APR, Nicolae Ceausescu, The Union of Right Wing Forces, UFD, King Michael I.

The opinions of the academic community have also been far reaching. One professor found that the text book placed little significance on key issues and moments in recent history. Others saw the book as offering a different approach to the study of history. Academician, Pompiliu Teodor, one of the panel who recommended the book to the Ministry of Education, believes that the argument is politically motivated.

The Social Democratic Party of Romania (PSDR) and the Party of National Romanian Unity (PUNR) are not referred to in the book although Romanian presidents and governments since 1990 are mentioned. At a press conference called by the Ministry of Education it was stated that the new text book met all the requirements of the history curriculum.

In a poll conducted by Metro Media Transylvania between 10 September and 20 September 1999, the PDSR held a substantial lead in both presidential and parliamentary elections. The leader of the PDSR, Ion Iliescu, heads the presidential race with 34 percent of the vote, with Emil Constantinescu securing third place with 17 percent. Ten percent of the sample of 2097 persons questioned stated that they would not vote at all while 15 percent were "don't knows." In the parliamentary elections the PDSR lead with 37 percent of the vote, 15 percent in front of the ruling coalition, the Romanian Democratic Convention (CDR). Nine percent of the sample said that they were not going to vote in the election and 12 percent were undecided.

A massive 64 percent of those questioned stated that they believed their lifestyle was better before 1989. 67 percent added that they believed they were now living in better times although only seven percent are happy with the level of "freedom" that they enjoy.

This week has been a time when potential political alliances have been discussed. Mircea Ionescu-Quintus, president of National Liberal Party (PNL), held discussions with Teodor Melescanu, the leader of the Alliance for Romania (APR). The purpose of the talks was to look at co-operation between the two parties after the next parliamentary elections. Melescanu looked forward to a coalition with a liberal attitude to Romania's economic development. Ionescu-Quintus said, "The National Liberal Party does not exclude a post-electoral alliance with the Alliance for Romania." (Monitorul - 7 October 1999)

This week, Melescanu also met with Ion Illiescu of the PDSR and Petre Roman of the Democratic Party (PD). This immediately led to suggestions that a revival of the National Salvation Front (FSN) was imminent. The possible recreation of the left wing alliance was criticised by representatives of the Christian Democratic National Peasant Party (PNTCD), the Hungarian Democratic Union of Romania (UDMR) and the nationalist and right wing parties. Even Alexandru Athanasiu, Vice President of the PDSR, criticised the idea of the FSN and its reformation but believed that an alliance between the PDSR, PD and APR was still a possibility. Ion Diaconescu, president of PNTCD, emphasised the credibility the country receives from overseas as a result of its present centrist government. He went on to say that he believes that support from the international community will diminish if the PDSR, or a left wing grouping, achieve power. Diaconescu said, "PNTCD and CDR represent the pole of the reform, while PDSR the opposite side." (Monitorul - 6 October)

The right wing has not been slow to begin to discuss alliances. The Union of Right Wing Forces (UFD) have had unofficial talks with the PNTCD and the PNL with the view to creating a right-leaning political group. The Civic Alliance Party (PAC), which as yet has no parliamentary representation, are also believed to be involved in the discussions.

The President of the UFD, Varujan Vosganian, is to launch a "Month of the Right Wing" at the beginning of next week. He said his party were to offer Romanians a new programme which was intended to defeat the left wing, not just isolate it.

Fifty-three members of the Chamber of Deputies presented a bill to the Government and to the President which proposed that King Michael I should be invited to attend Romania's national day on 1 December. Deputies from the PNTCD, the UFD and the APR signed the proposed bill.

A censure motion of the government's agricultural policy was proposed in the senate by the left wing opposition. The motion criticised the Governmentís farm management programme and demanded the resignation of Ioan Muresan, the Agriculture Minister. Muresan said, "The motion is a set-up. It has no real basis." (Reuters - 7 October 1999)The motion was defeated. Earlier this week Muresan had spoken about delays in this autumnís ploughing and sowing and other seasonal work. He identified shortage of funds for the industry as the primary cause.

The Government approved proposed negotiations with the European Investment Bank (EIB) to seek loans for the modernisation of the Bucharest to Constanza highway and for the purchase of aircraft for the Romanian airline, TAROM. The airline will also come under scrutiny from a World Bank mission which will arrive in Romania this week. A spokesperson said, "The commission is expected to analyze issues related to the restructuring of the banking sector, privatization or liquidation of 64 state-run companies and improvement of the business climate." (Reuters - 6 October 1999) TAROM is one of the state owned companies earmarked for privatisation.

President Emil Constantinescu spoke of the past ten years when he officially opened the university year in Craiova. He suggested that the revolution that took place in December 1989 was only a precursor to the real revolution which would take place this autumn with the acceptance by Parliament of the new laws on land ownership. Once these laws have been passed only eight percent of agricultural land will remain in state ownership. He went on to say that Romania is no longer looked down on in the West because of its Human Rights record and said that in recent years he had noted "a surprising development of mentality."

The second auction sale of the property of former head of state Nicolae Ceausescu took place in Bucharest. Over 800 lots were to be auctioned during the week. The sale made a good start on Monday with a silver Mercedes selling for USD 40,000. Auctioneers estimate that the total raised could be over USD 500,000 - at least three times the reserve placed on all the goods. Collectors from all around the world have come to Bucharest for the sale. The sale was made up of items presented to Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, during their time in power. One buyer said, "I'm interested in anything that has to do with Ceausescu. In time, it's going to be good value for money." (Reuters - 5 October 1999)

On Saturday the Romanian team took on the US in the Rugby World Cup. Following a disappointing start to their tournament when they were defeated by the powerful Australian side, expectations are high that the Romanian side will do well. Romanian captain, Tudor Constantin, was expected to return to the side for the match which took place at Lansdowne Road in Dublin. John Phillips, the New Zealander who is the technical director for the Romanian side said, "We played a very positive game against the Australians, kept the negatives out of it and we intend playing the same way against the States. That's our style, it's a style I advocate. It's not a French style, it's a Romanian style and it's a style of play Romania can be competitive with."

Catherine Lovatt and David Lovatt, 2 October 1999


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