Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 19
1 November 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
For the week beginning 24 October 1999

Catherine and David Lovatt

On Wednesday, Finnish Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen announced that he believed the Helsinki summit could give the go ahead for enlargement talks to begin with a second group of nations. The group of six nations, which includes Romania, were invited to start European Union (EU) membership talks by the European Commission (EC) on 13 October 1999. Lipponen said, "I think that after Helsinki, the six countries in the second group could participate in actual negotiations. There is consensus on that." (Reuters - 27 October 1999).

The other side of the question was addressed at the "Borders of Europe" conference which was held this week. Romanian academics who took part suggested that the manner in which the EU was treating potential future partners was damaging the ideals of the partnership in Eastern Europe. Ivailo Znepolski, a Bulgarian speaker at the conference, explained that in his opinion the Iron Curtain has been replaced by "a curtain of European norms and regulations." (Reuters - 26 October 1999) The conference also discussed the fact that people of Eastern Europe were more hostile towards the action taken by the West in Kosovo than their respective governments, as the people believed that there was an underlying aim to impose Western values on their cultures and a feeling that they were being treated as a second-class group of nations.

At the Romanian Investment Summit held on Thursday, Gunter Verheugen, European Commissioner for the extension of the EU, confidently suggested that Romania could fulfill all the conditions for joining the EU. He said the European Commission believed "the reform process had taken root in the country," and furthermore that, although great strides had been made through the agreements with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), Romania does not yet have a fully functioning market economy. He said, "Romania's future lies in the Government and Romanians' hands. Europe will undoubtedly endorse all the necessary reforms, but it is up to Romania to face this challenge." (Mediafax - 28 October 1999)

At the same meeting, Romanian President Emil Constantinescu praised Romanians for their sacrifices during the financial crises that have afflicted the country. He said that the government, which was elected in 1996, was left a difficult legacy by its predecessors, but it had nonetheless achieved financial stability, control over inflation, a decrease in foreign debt and an increase in national currency reserves - thanks to the Romanian people.

At a news conference, Verheugen commented on the Romanian government's steps to improve the conditions of orphaned and abandoned children living in institutions, saying that the allocation of extra funds and the plans to create a child protection organisation were positive moves and enhanced Romania's chances for EU membership.

President Constantinescu also spoke about underprivileged children, but expressed his regret that EU organisations and charities overstate the situation in the childrens' institutions. He asserted that some groups use exaggerated photographic images to influence public opinion and hence raise funds. Constantinescu went on to say that he hoped the monitoring process, which is to be put in place by the EU, would eliminate the acceptance of sensationalist material which affects perceptions of Romania abroad.

On 25 October, President Constantinescu criticised a request for early elections made by the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) as being nothing more than electoral manoeuvring. PDSR leader Ion Iliescu demanded the dismissal of Prime Minister Radu Vasile's government because of its failure to provide minimum living standards for many Romanians. He suggested a replacement government of experts who have no political leanings.

Support for the government on this issue came from a variety of politicians, including Valeriu Stoica of the National Liberal Party (PNL) who rejected Iliescu's statement and Cristian Dumitrescu of the Democratic Party (PD) who said, "There is no special reason for this coalition not to continue." (Monitorul - 26 October 1999)

President Constantinescu maintained a high profile throughout the week with other statements on a range of issues. He reprimanded his own party, the National Christian Democratic Peasant Party (PNTCD), for not giving him sufficient support, and accused the Greater Romania Party (PRM) of directing a campaign of intimidation at him. He pledged that he would not give in to such intimidation and would continue to do his duty.

Constantinescu, meeting with academics in Cluj, blamed both the media and politicians for setbacks in the reform programme. According to Constantinescu, the media were too sensationalist, and did not present a truthful picture of the reform efforts, and politicians were only interested in maintaining power. He said, "We can no longer rely on the political class in the year left until elections." (EvZ - 24 October 1999)

On Wednesday, President Constantinescu expressed his concern about the second phase of the IMF stand-by loan to Romania. He suggested that if the loan was not forthcoming there could be a major cabinet reshuffle or even a total replacement.

For its part, the IMF is still discussing whether it will grant Romania the next phase of its loan despite not having "qualified" for it by failing to raise enough money in the private sector. Michel Camdessus, the IMF's Managing Director, said, "We have a [lending] programme and we are looking forward to the success of the programme. There are problems and when you have problems you discuss them to see if a waiver is justified. We are in the midst of these discussions and I hope we will have productive discussions." (Reuters - 27 October 1999)

The Romanian government announced that it will use a German consultancy firm to inform the population about the new tax regime approved by parliament in August. At present, taxation revenue from wages and other incomes are taxed separately with deposit accounts in banks not subject to any taxation. The new system, which will bring the country more in line with the West, will create a global approach to taxation with tax levels being linked to total income.

On Thursday, streets in many Romanian cities were blocked by student marches. In Bucharest, at least 5000 students gathered in University Square to protest the conditions on campuses which have not been improved over the past ten years. Luis Lazarus, of the students association, stated their demands which include grants of USD16 per month and hostel subsidies of USD 8 a month. The authorities rejected the students' demands prompting the students to call for an indefinite strike across the country. Students often have to offer bribes to secure a bed in a hall of residence.

A devastating report from Transparency International concluded this week that Romania is the 33rd most corrupt nation out of the 99 countries included in a survey. Dragos Calitou, President of Romanian Transparency International, commented that the survey acts as, "an indicator of credibility for investors, and is also acknowledged and used for the evaluation of the country’s risk." (Monitorul - 27 October 1999) The survey was based on the perceptions that both foreign investors and the general public held over the level of corruption in a country.

On Tuesday, an International Arms Fair was opened in Bucharest by Defence Minister Victor Babiuc. 67 Romanian companies who manufacture and export military products, along with 40 companies from the rest of the world, participated in the fair. The organiser of the fair, Marius Batlan, said that Romanian companies offer very competitive prices for equipment of a high quality.

Prime Minister Vasile announced at the Day of the Romanian Army ceremony that he was determined to raise the level of pay for all branches of the military and to increase the funding for the purchase of equipment. President Constantinescu, addressing the same ceremony said, "I ask you to do everything possible to maintain a united, disciplined army, ready for action at any moment, in order to defend the state and the constitutional democracy. Those who are ruling the country know and are not indifferent to the difficult conditions under which you must work and live." (Monitorul 26 October 1999)

Minimalist composer Philip Glass has composed a new film score to accompany the film classic Dracula. The film, based on Bram Stokers' novel, is partly set in Transylvania, which has helped enshrine the myth of vampirism in Romanian folklore which today provides a profitable tourist attraction. The score is turning out to be a major hit, as Glass recently performed the concert version of his score in Budapest with the Kronos quartet to a sell-out audience at the Liszt Academy.

Catherine Lovatt and David Lovatt, 29 October 1999


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