Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 18
25 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
Romanian News Review for the week
beginning 17 October 1999

Catherine and David Lovatt

A six year loan of USD 4178 from Citibank Romania has been made to the Ministry of the Interior to enable the police to establish a modern fingerprint system in the country. The system will be installed in key counties across the country such as Cluj, Brasov, Constanta and Dolj, and will enable the purchase of specialist equipment from Printrak International - a US company.

The Chamber of Deputies approved a law which would offer both rehabilitation and compensation to persons who fought to resist the Communist regime in the 1940s and 1950s. Anyone who believes that they, or their descendants, are eligible for compensation will have to first apply for rehabilitation. If this is granted, any of their property which was seized by the Communists must be returned. Furthermore, the title of Martyr-Hero will be given to those who were killed in their struggle against the regime. The law has proved to be controversial because many of those involved were members of the Iron Guard or their supporters.

The Romanian Supreme Defence Council (CSAT) has reported that burglary and theft have increased across Romania at a frightening rate, and has subsequently set in place proposals to help improve public safety. From 1 November, more police will be deployed on the streets to help fight and control crime. Romanian President Emil Constantinescu has supported the move, and in a statement recognized the danger of organised crime to the stability of the country, as he believes that Romanians no longer feel safe from crime in their own towns and cities.

The European Commission's proposal to invite Romania and five other countries to join the accession negotiations was discussed at the weekend by current EU heads of government. They accepted the proposals at a meeting in Tampere, Finland where Finnish Prime Minister Paavo Liponen said, "A consensus is being created about the inclusion of six other countries in the Helsinki summit." (Monitorul - 19 October 1999)

At the weekend, the Romanian cabinet adopted a range of emergency decrees following last week's decision by the European Commission. They include, regulations on the import and export of strategic materials, establishing an agency to deal with state owned land and the creation of a farming development fund, and are aimed at establishing targets for the medium to long-term macro-economic development of the country. The Cabinet also decided to speed up the passage of property, as well as civil service and stock market laws through parliament.

The Romanian government set in place a timetable for the reform of the child protection systems within the country It seems, however, they believe that the problem of orphaned children is almost solved, as Prime Minister Radu Vasile suggested the measures required by the European Commission have already being taken. A recent alteration to the budget has allocated USD 68 million for improvements to the situation in Romania’s childrens' homes, however, money alone cannot change the conditions which these children have to endure.

In a week of optimistic thoughts about the possibility of joining the European Union, there has, however, been one note of caution. David Funderbunk, US Ambassador in Bucharest from 1981 to 1985, has said that Romania’s chances of joining the EU and NATO will be severely damaged if the former Communists win the next elections. At a ceremony where he was presented the order of Steaua Romaniei - Romania’s highest honour - Constantinescu said, "David is a great friend of Romania. He submitted his diplomatic career to an even higher ideal, that of getting to know a people, to understand a culture, to consolidate the bond between two nations. And last, but not least, to contribute to the success of a democratic society within this part of the world." (Reuters - 21 October 1999) Funderbunk praised President Constantinescu, saying that he was highly regarded in the West, and that a further Constantinescu presidency was the only option for a prosperous, democratic future for Romania. He went on to say, "Receiving the Romanian Star is not only a high point in my career, but for me personally as well. It is a very humbling experience and a great honor to be recognized by the Romanian people, for whom I feel great affinity and affection." (Reuters - 21 October 1999)

The Managing Council of the Comprehensive Development Framework(CDF) Project met with World Bank Director Andrew Vorkink. The project, which was drawn by the World Bank up to prepare a long term development plan for Romania, was based on consultations with over 600 people. The priorities of the project are improvements to education, health and children’s services, institutional reform, infrastructural development and accession to the EU. Vorkink said that the World Bank was happy to support Romania with this venture.

The World Bank also announced that they are to implement and support two new programmes in Romania. First, they are to provide USD 100 million for rural development and economic growth, and this will be supported by a further Euro 150 million from the EU each year for the next six years. Secondly, the World Bank is prepared to give a credit of USD 50 million in order to establish a National Anti-Corruption Strategy.

It is expected that the second part of the International Monetary Fund stand-by loan will be released this week, although there are conditions which have yet to be met. The IMF has removed the condition that Romania must obtain a substantial loan on the private capital market, however. In order for the loan to be granted the IMF has to be convinced that the re-organisation of the Agricultural Bank will go ahead, and that action has been taken regarding diesel coupons for farmers.

There is, however, one further condition that has proved too much for Prime Minister Radu Vasile - paying the police and the military. Yet, the government is determined that pay raises of 60 percent for the police and 80 percent for the armed forces will go ahead. Vasile said, "We must give them the money even if the International Monetary Fund (IMF) does not agree with it." (Monitorul - 20 October)

The Bucharest Bourse and the London Stock Exchange have signed an agreement which opens the way to co-operation between the two organisations. President of the Bucharest Bourse Viorel Pana said, "This memorandum opens the opportunity to quote companies on the two stock exchanges, and to list several Romanian companies on the London Stock Exchange." (Mediafax 18 October 1999) Philip Morgan Rees of the London Stock Exchange said, "The memorandum signed by the two bourses marks a new chapter in the long term collaboration between them, with the first stage implying the exchange of information and the development of a programme for training the Romanian operators." (EvZ - 19 October 1999)

Romanian, Greek and Italian companies, who are members of the Balkan Reconstruction Action Group (GARB), signed an agreement to work together on projects in areas of Yugoslavia affected by the NATO bombing campaign. Companies from the UK, Germany, France, Belgium and the US are reported to be interested in setting up similar agreements with Romanian GARB companies. The fact that Romanian companies are close to the area of reconstruction, and have skilled employees in the construction industry makes them ideal partners.

Wages are no longer keeping pace with inflation in Romania. In their latest study, the National Statistics Board (CNS) show that, between January and August, inflation rose by 38.9 percent, whereas wages have only increased by 35.7 percent. The spending power of the population has been further reduced as a result of the devaluation of the Romanian leu against the dollar. During the same period, there has been a depreciation of 45.44 percent.

Termoelectrica, a key supplier of thermal energy, has said that this winter people will go cold because of debts. The company is owed USD 120 million, and its fuel stock is at its lowest levels in 10 years. Termoelectica announced earlier this week that only customers who are prepared to pay rescheduled debts, together with weekly fees for hot water and heating, will be supplied. Part of the problem has been caused by local authorities, who do not have enough funds to subsidise the fuel costs of low income families who are unable to pay their bills. Across Romania, 16 towns and cities have already had their hot water supplies cut off, while another seven, including Bucharest, are waiting for this to happen. Many Romanian homes are heated from huge centralized companies which provide services for whole towns - unlike in the UK, for example, where heating and hot water are supplied by individual home systems.

On Wednesday, President Constantinescu entered the heating debate by demanding that the government take urgent action to solve this problem when he said, "Unheated homes are a result of bad management by the central and local administrations. Excuses and explanations cannot keep us warm." (Reuters - 20 October 1999)

The government has decided to revise their budget for the second time in two months, and to provide cash for heating up to 1.5 million low income households across the country. Funds will also be provided for the state owned utility companies to counteract the effects of debts.

An agreement was signed between Romania and Yugoslavia to bring up to date the Danube Hydro-electric plant shared by the two countries. Work on the 30 year old plant is scheduled to be completed by 2005, with each of the 12 turbines being upgraded. A spokesman of Conel, the Romanian national electric company, said, "Upgrading the Portile de Fier 1 (Iron Gates 1) plant will increase output by about 10 percent." Work on the first turbine will begin next year.

Arguments about the "civil servant law" continued throughout the week. The law, which turns the civil service into a professional, non-political organisation, was passed by the Chamber of Deputies, but has been halted in the Senate. As a result, the government has been encouraged to pass the law by using its emergency powers. Romanian Social Democracy Party (PDSR) vice-president Adrian Nastase said that his party will oppose the law, and went on to suggest that, if it can only be enacted by using the government's emergency powers, the PDSR will remove it from the statute book when they come into power. Petre Roman, Leader of the Democratic Party (PD), has explained that it is important for this legislation to go through, as it is a fundamental requirement of the EU before negotiations for admission begin. However, Christian Democratic Peasant Party (PNTCD) president Ion Diaconescu believes that there is no need to use special powers to push this piece of legislation through, as he explained, "Some sources say it is a condition, some say it is not. If it is not an emergency, we should not waste our time with it. It is for the EU to decide whether the adoption of the law is an absolute condition. If it is not, we will focus on other laws." (EvZ 19 October 1999)

On Wednesday, the Senate passed a bill which allows greater access to the files of the Securitate, the former secret police of the Communist regime. Senator Mircea Ionescu-Quintus said in response, "This historical vote helps us to pass over the suspicions which do not let us split from a past we repudiate." (Associated Press - 21 October 1999) Although files about "ordinary Romanians" have been accessible for some time, this bill gives access to the files that are held on politicians, government officials and judges. Several million files are still being withheld, as it has been suggested that there is a file for a least 25 percent of the population of Romania.

Dan Voiculescu, leader of the Romanian Humanist Party (PUR), and his counterpart, Ion Iliescu of the PDSR, have agreed that their parties will support each other during the local election campaign. Although the parties will offer separate lists of candidates in the first round of the election, the better candidate will receive the support of both parties in the second round. The leaders also agreed to consult before promoting any legislative programme. In Bucharest the leaders of the local PDSR have made similar electoral arrangements with the Romanian National Party (PNR) for the city elections.

The PDSR has had its problems this week, however. Following the election of Alexandru Athanasiu as the new president of the party, one hundred supporters of the defeated candidate, Emil Putin, left the special general meeting. They complained about "the dictatorial manner in which voting was decided." Putin and Athanasiu have opposing visions on how the PDSR should act in the future. Whereas Athanasiu believes that the party has to stand alone to seek government, with the possibility of making alliances only after the general election, Putin, on the other hand, firmly believes that the PDSR would be better off not seeking government, but rather seeking a merger with the Alliance for Romania Party (APR). The walkout left the meeting without a quorum, and therefore the PDSR was unable to elect its executive. The special meeting is to be reconvened in a month.

Teodor Melescanu, leader of the APR, has already said that his party will run alone. Melescanu believes that they are capable of taking power not only as a centrist party, but also as an alternative to the ruling coalition (centre-right) and the left-wing PDSR.

The Union of Right Wing Forces (UFD) launched its manifesto at the weekend under the banner "Each Romanian’s Romania." In his presentation Adrian Iorgulescu, UFD president, said, "Unlike the neighbouring countries within the former Communist area, things stagnated in Romania because of the chaos and incompetance that characterised all the post-Revolution rules." (Monitorul - 19 October 1999)

Finally, two Romanians seeking political asylum in the Republic of Ireland, Gabriel Casaneanu and his wife, have had a huge change of fortune. They arrived in Ireland without any funds just over two years ago, but on Thursday they discovered that they had won the Irish National Lottery - EUR 1,413,817.

Catherine Lovatt and David Lovatt, 23 October 1999


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