Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 21
15 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
News from Romania since 7 November 1999

Catherine and David Lovatt

9 November saw Romanian students take to the streets of Bucharest again, following a breakdown of talks with Prime Minister Radu Vasile. Traffic was blocked as students waving red flags depicting the hammer and sickle confronted riot police. Students are demanding that their monthly grants be raised to USD 16 and that their accommodation allowances be raised to USD 8 per month. The government has said that it is prepared to double grants over a ten month period next year. Student leaders are to meet with President Emil Constantinescu on Friday.

Lecturers and professors at Bucharest University and at the Polytechnics University have warned that they will join the students in their protest from Monday. Their trade union representatives have announced that they are unhappy with the management of the funds allocated to the University. They believe that, by the end of the year, sufficient funds will not remain to pay their salaries. The Polytechnic University and student hostels are without heating as a result of debts to the heating utilities. The Interior Minister, Constantin Ionescu, has warned that the police will take firm action if the protest meeting gets out of hand.

Bucharest was the scene of further action on Wednesday, when almost a thousand railway workers blocked the tracks into and out of Gara de Nord, the city's main railway station. This protest action called for an increases in wages, better conditions of service and for any further pay raises to be linked to inflation. In addition, the rail workers were drawing attention to the fact that 140,000 employees of the State Railway Authority (SNCFR) have been laid off this year as part of the company’s reorganisation.

The action followed a march through Bucharest earlier in the day by 4000 railway workers. Prime Minister Vasile and Transport Minister Traian Basescu refused to meet with the worker's representatives, but after Gara de Nord was blocked Basescu announced that SNCFR would begin to negotiate with railway workers on the following day.

Another protest march this week in Bucharest seemed to attract very little attention. A group of homeless people held a silent demonstration outside the Senate building to protest impossible living conditions. After orphans have turned 18, they are no longer eligible to remain in state institutions where they have been brought up. As they have no address, they cannot get minimum social security payments, they cannot find work and cannot gain ID cards for Bucharest. Overnight shelters will house them for one night, food is only available from canteens for the poor and medical help is virtually non-existent.

The protest action by the workers of truck builder Roman SA in Brasov has been noticed and has continued to simmer throughout the week. After last week’s violent action, when workers threw rocks and petrol bombs at local government offices, Industry and Trade junior minister Ioan Roman met with trade union officials on Monday. After three hours of talks, agreement was reached on ten points of the workers demands. In July, Roman SA workers were promised a 15 per cent pay raise for October or November. Because of debts this year, amounting to USD 166 million, and a fall in orders, this promise has not been kept and workers have been laid off - hence the protest.

The points of agreement made with the workforce were discussed by the Cabinet on Tuesday 9 November. They rejected the call for an increase in wages and refused to include tax exemptions and bonus payments. They did, however, approve that Roman SA's debts to the central government could be covered in exchange for 420 vehicles for the Ministry of Defence and the Interior Ministry. Prime Minister Vasile proposed that Roman SA should be privatised by the sale of shares to employees and trade union members.

The trade union leaders who signed the authorisation for the demonstration that turned into a riot have been told they have to meet the cost of the damages caused in the riot. The building that was damaged houses the Brasov local government offices, the city council and the social protection department. These three bodies are saying that the organisers of the demonstration were responsible for ensuring that it did not get out of hand and they failed in this duty. Each of the 56 trade union leaders are being required to pay USD 1000 in damages.

Roman SA is not the only Brasov company experiencing difficulties. Tractorul has debts in the region of USD 90 million for this year alone. Local government officials in Brasov have banned protests from the city and have made clear their intention to use riot police in the event of any further violence and rioting.

Another region of Romania experiencing protest by workers is Neamt County. On Thursday, almost 1000 employees of Petrotub Roman blocked the E85 European Highway demanding higher wages and protesting against any further lay-offs. The demonstrators demanded talks with representatives of the cabinet. The State Ownership Fund (FPS) is due to sign a privatisation agreement with British Tubman International later this week. Radu Sirbu, of the FPS, said, "In the people's anger, I see a reason to speed up the privatization and the political manipulation of the Petrotub unions seems obvious to me." (Mediafax - 11 November 1999) The prefect of Neamt County has been asked to intervene and restore order. Police and soldiers are standing by.

The farming trade union confederation, Agrostar, has demanded that Prime Minister Vasile remove the Minister of Agriculture, Ioan Muresan, from office. They have accused Muresan of using unfair criteria to distribute a 1993 loan for agriculture of USD 10 million from the US government. The trade union group has also commented on the fact that Muresan has appointed too many advisers from outside agriculture who are not capable of managing the farming industry.

It was announced this week that the rate of inflation went up by 4.2 per cent in October. This is bad news for both the government and for the population. The cause of this leap, according to the National Statistics Board, has been rises in the cost of food and services. Telephone charges rose by 13.5 per cent and rail fares by 8.2 per cent from September. Egg prices went up by 20.3 per cent, as against 3.4 per cent for all other foodstuffs. Thermal power charges went up by 9.4 per cent. However, over 200,000 additional people invested their money in mutual funds in October - a rise of 6.9 per cent.

The law which will restore farm land and forests to the owners (the Lupu law) from whom it was seized by the communist regime after the Second World War was passed by the Senate on Tuesday by 89 votes to 12, with 27 abstentions. An estimated two million owners will benefit from this measure which will restore about one million hectares of farmland and two million hectares of forest. Individual owners will be entitled to a maximum of 50 hectares of farmland. If this is not possible, compensation will be paid. The restoration of forests programme will give up to 10 hectares to original owners.

The decision by the Senate is different from that of the Chamber of Deputies. The Deputies agreed that 30 hectares of forest should be restored to the original owners. The final version of the law will now be determined through the mediation of a bicameral commission.

The part of the property bill that deals with the reform of state owned farms has been given until 15 November to be passed by parliament. If this date is not met, the executive will issue an emergency decree to create a State Lands Agency. The current impasse has been caused because the original bill prepared by Agriculture Minister Ioan Muresan has had alterations to at least three quarters of its content made in the Senate by members of the Democratic Party (PD).

The Chamber of Deputies passed a bill on Wednesday which will lead to imprisonment and a ban from high office for cabinet ministers who deliberately give inaccurate information about the actions of government to Parliament or the President. Additionally, ministers who prevent citizens from exercising their freedoms and rights as specified under the Constitution, by whatever means, will be liable to imprisonment for between two and twelve years.

Three members of the Chamber of Deputies have resigned from their party, the Romanian Social Democratic Party (PDSR). First, vice-president of the party Emil Putin, together with Dumitru Ifrim and Sorin Marinescu, told a news conference on Thursday that they were dissatisfied with the attitude of the PDSR president, Alexandru Athanasiu, and the dismissal of local party leaders. They plan to join the Alliance for Romania Party (APR).

The meeting of the Socialist International in Paris this week gave full membership rights to the PDSR and the PD. Petre Roman, the leader of the PD, explained that this decision will make Romania better known and supported abroad, while PDSR president Athanasiu commented on the recognition of their parties as having the potential for government.

A public opinion survey carried out by Insomar in early November has shown that 56.1 per cent of those questioned believe the performance of the government since 1996 has been bad. 24.4 per cent of participants indicated that a fall in living standards has caused them the most dissatisfaction, while 16.5 per cent pointed to incompetence of leaders as the biggest cause of discontent, with Prime Minister Vasile receiving a good deal of personal criticism. In a wide ranging survey, the National Christian Democratic Peasants Party (PNTCD) is seen by 52.3 per cent of those polled as having the worst performance in the government coalition, while 45.4 per cent believe that what needs to change most in Romania is mentality.

On Wednesday, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Bogdan Bucur said, "We are following with concern developments in the political situation in Moldova." (Agence France Presse - 10 November 1999) This statement followed reports that deputies in the Moldovan parliament had approved a motion of no-confidence against the government of Prime Minister Ion Sturza. Nationalist and communist deputies joined together to ensure that the government was defeated.

The death of author and editor-in-chief of the weekly journal Cuvantul, Radu Teposu, was announced at the weekend. Teposu, who was 45, was a passenger on a bus involved in a collision with a truck, and died as a result of the accident. He was remembered by Cornel Nistorescu, a former colleague, as a person "who didn’t want to push himself forward, but [who] had a high moral standing." (Associated Press - 7 November 1999 )

Catherine Lovatt and David Lovatt, 12 November 1999


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