Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 24
6 December 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 28 November 1999

Catherine and David Lovatt

Wednesday was Romania’s National Day, when celebrations took place throughout the country to mark the formation of the Romanian State on 1 December 1918.

The President, Emil Constantinescu, joined the ceremonies in the city of Alba Iulia but, unfortunately, the events were spoiled, when hundreds of supporters of the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR), the Romanian National Unity Party (PUNR) and the Romanian National Party (PNR) booed and shouted to such an extent that the President left the platform. The President said, "We proved once more that we let ourselves be overrun by passion, that we are disunited, and that, instead of tolerance, we are ruled by hatred and violence. I do not think that we have anything to be proud of, considering how our national holiday was celebrated in Alba Iulia" (Reuters, 1 December 1999). He went on to express his "regret" that the religious and military festival had been so disrupted that both the church and the army had been offended.

The National Christian Democratic Peasant Party (PNTCD) reacted strongly, with senior members criticising the PDSR for their "Communist-like intolerance." PDSR Deputy Chairman Adrian Nastase emphasised that the protesters were making their comment on the declining living standards in Romania. He added that the President had offended many people by suggesting that the booing was directed at both the army and the church.

His Holiness, the Archbishop of Alba Iulia, added to the controversy by saying, "It is a lack of respect and even a shame that the Romanians cannot respect and honour properly their fundamental institutions - the Church, Armed Forces and the Presidency. We are poor enough, we do not need a poor soul" (Nine o’clock, 2 December 1999).

Prime Minister Radu Vasile, together with members of the cabinet, led the formal celebrations in Bucharest. He appealed to Romanians to "trust in themselves and their country" and promised a return to normality in the near future.

Romania has received many messages of support and congratulations from across the world. The message from Queen Elizabeth II of the UK read, "On the occasion of your National Day, I have much pleasure in sending my congratulations to Your Excellency and the people of Romania, together with my best wishes for the future prosperity and happiness of you all."

One other anniversary has been commemorated this week. On Tuesday, members of the Iron Guard gathered together in the forest of Tancabesti, where Corneliu Zelea Codreanu was assassinated in 1938.

The defence ministers of Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Romania, Slovenia, and Turkey met with their counterpart from Italy and US Defence Secretary William Cohen on Monday. The outcome of this meeting, of the members of the Multinational Peace Keeping Force in South Eastern Europe, was the creation of a military intelligence organisation, which could help control and avoid potential crises in the Balkans. In addition, the group of countries agreed to create a joint force to develop the area’s infrastructure.

In his opening speech to the South-eastern Europe Defence Ministerial (SEDM) conference, President Constantinescu said, "The strengthening and expansion of stability in South-Eastern Europe is a main objective of regional and European policy. The experience of this region so far has demonstrated the fact that the security of a state cannot be dissociated from the security of its neighbours" (Nine o’clock, 1 December 1999). Constantinescu went on to speak of his hopes for the future of Romania, as a state integrated into the European Union. Replying, Secretary of Defence Cohen spoke of Romania’s support during Operation Allied Force and emphasised the growth of co-operation between states in the region. He said, "The United States stands ready to participate actively in the works of SEDM and related efforts."

Earlier in the week, Cohen held discussions with the President, Prime Minister Vasile and Secretary for Defence Victor Babiuc. At a press conference, Cohen commented on the success of the talks and said that, although Romania was faced with many difficulties, he was sure they would be overcome. He continued by offering help from the US to reform the armed services. The next opportunity to be a candidate country for NATO membership will come in 2002, and Cohen voiced his hopes that, by then, Romania will have proved that it could be a provider and not just a recipient of security in the region.

Towards the end of this week, military officers from seven NATO member states and eleven partner states will take part in a computer driven exercise called "Co-operative Determination 1999." This is the first "virtual" exercise to take place in Romania and was described by a NATO spokesman as designed to "develop maximum efficiency inside a multinational force the size of a brigade" (Agence France Presse - 27 November 1999).

As a sign of further co-operation between the Balkan states, the South-East European Countries' Cooperation Process (SEECP), which is currently chaired by Romania, met in Bucharest on Thursday. The Foreign Ministers, or their representatives, from Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Macedonia, Turkey, Greece, Croatia and Bosnia discussed the state of affairs in the region after the Kosovo conflict and co-operation related to the Balkan Stability Pact.

The Minister of Agriculture, Ioan Avram Muresan, expects that Romania will receive the second part of the ASAL loan from the World Bank within a fortnight. One of the conditions, for this part of the loan, is that the privatision of former state owned farms must be underway. The delay in achieving this has already resulted in this element of the loan being postponed twice this year. The first three privatisations are to be finalised this month will be in Brasov county, Hunedoara county and Botosani county. Although the bill to privatise former state owned collective farms is being held up in the committee stage at the Senate, Muresan has said that the law will be passed using a government emergency ordinance next week.

Giovanni Ravasio, European Commission director on economic and financial affairs, and Prime Minister Vasile led the inaugural meeting of the working group to develop a medium term economic strategy for Romania. This group was established as a result of an initiative of Gunter Verheugen, the commissioner for enlargement of the EU, to help Romania meet the necessary criteria for joining the EU accession talks. Ravasio explained that there was no intention of imposing economic solutions onto Romania but the purpose of this group, including representatives of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, is to provide the best advice. He said, "We don't want to impose anything, this is a Romanian programme, a Romanian challenge" (Nine o’clock, 2 December 1999).

Ravasio believes that the programme which will be constructed will have a positive effect on inward investment but will need a determined approach by the government to achieve success. "It would not be reasonable to expect immediate results, but what matters is the enforcement of the established policies by the Romanian Government," said Ravasio. The next meeting of the working group, together with a consultative body drawn from opposition parties, trade unions and NGOs, will take place next week.

Verheugen told a meeting between the European Parliament and the presidents of the parliaments of the twelve countries seeking accession talks that the window of opportunity would only be open for a specific time. He warned of the dangers of a lack of support from the people in the applicant countries, which could bring entry negotiations to a halt. He said, "I cannot exclude the danger that, on the way to European integration, some countries may lose ground and fall by the wayside completely" (Reuters, 30 November 1999). Verheugen has forecast that the first country to join the EU is likely to do so in 2004 but emphasised that the whole procedure of negotiation with 12 different governments is "an enormous task." He encouraged the parliaments of the applicant states to do all in their power to ensure that the momentum towards membership is maintained, whatever the political complexion of their government. "It's important for us to know that we are not going to have a situation where, suddenly, the country's attitude can change 180 degrees," he said.

Slovenia’s move to join the European Union (EU) is having an effect on Romanians. From February 2000, Romanian citizens must have a visa to enter Slovenia. Having visa requirements for non-EU countries is part of the EU membership criteria.

The government’s problems at home continued throughout the week, with further protest action by the major trade unions. On Monday, railway workers who are members of the National Bloc Union (BNS) took strike action, in an attempt to get the employers to agree to collective bargaining. The Unions are pressing for huge increases in salaries, which Transport Minister Traian Basescu will not agree to. Basescu told a news conference on Wednesday that, if he gave in to union demands, the upgrading and renewal programme of the railway industry would not be able to go ahead because of limited budgets.

A further protest march and demonstration took place in front of government buildings on Wednesday. BNS President Dumitru Costin spoke to a comparatively small group of trade unionists about the government’s policies, adding that the government had agreed to negotiate with them. "The governors called us to discussions for fear of some imminent protests, not because they think too much of our requests. They fear they might 'celebrate' the tenth anniversary of the fall of communism with a new revolution," said Costin (Nine o’clock, 2 December 1999). Further action is planned to take place across the country throughout December.

Perhaps the most serious problem to face, not only the government, but every person in the country is still to come, however. World AIDS day was marked by Romanian doctors saying that the disease would spread in the next few years. Adrian Streinu Cercel, head of the National anti-AIDS Commission, said, "Romania is unprepared for this new scourge, which will explode in a couple of years" (Reuters, 1 December 1999).

Doctors predict this increase in the number of AIDS cases because of poor sanitation, ineffective blood screening and the increase in the number of babies born to infected mothers. Cercel continued, "Romania will continue to have a large number of AIDS and HIV-positive children, but the trend is to have more and more children born to infected mothers, rather than infected through bad medical treatment."

He went on to talk about drug addiction in the country, highlighting reports that more addicts are moving from glue sniffing to injecting drugs. He announced a programme for the provision of disposable syringes to addicts, which will be set in place over the next six months.

The week of Romania’s National Day has given journalists, academics and the great and good the opportunity to be profound and give their opinions about Romania and its future. The editorial in EvZ Online on 1 December concentrated on the number of young Romanians who are leaving the country to seek something better, whether it exists or not. The editorial ends:

…imperceptibly we have all contributed to the run-away ideal instead of inculcating into young people's minds the faith in Romania's victory…...On our National Day we should anesthetize our pains, throw out our chests and let history speak for us as we hold Mihai Viteazul's horse by the reins and gently stroke the feather on Vlad Tepes' cap. But the terrible truth, spoken by those considering fleeing the country, seems to me much more important. The message these people should hear on December 1 is "Not everything is lost! Don't run away!" (EvZ - 1 December 1999)

Catherine Lovatt and David Lovatt, 3 December 1999

Archive of Catherine Lovatt's articles on Romania and Moldova.


Evenimentul zilei / EvZ online





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