Vol 1, No 4, 19 July 1999

C E N T R A L   E U R O P E A N   N E W S:
Romanian News Round-up

Romania has again been hit by severe weather conditions. On Monday, after heavy rainfall in the area of Riul Mare river in the Retezat mountains, several people were killed and many were injured when a landslide engulfed the construction site of a dam. Rescue teams were despatched to the area by helicopter, while workers at the site attempted to clear the supply roads with earth moving equipment. Torrential rain during the early hours of the morning caused the river to rise alarmingly. A wave of mud and water hit the houses of the 100 families working at the site and killed at least 15 of their number, including a one-year-old child.

At the same time, the town of Drobeta-Turnu Severin, on the Danube, experienced severe flooding, which brought road and rail traffic to a halt. Rivers in the county of Bihor reached danger levels following the heavy rain, and central and western Romania experienced power cuts and damage to housing as a result of hail and more heavy rain.

Over the past two weeks, storms and subsequent flooding have affected nearly 50 towns and villages and have left over 10,000 acres of farmland under water. The Environment Ministry reported that the floods have left many people homeless, have destroyed 130 bridges and damaged over 60 miles of roadway.(Reuters, Bucharest, 13 July 1999)

Later in the week, while Romanian President Emil Constantinescu offered his sympathy to the bereaved and visited the disaster area, Prime Minister Radu Vasile began to look for someone to blame. He criticised Environment Minister Romica Tomescu and the Public Works and Land Planning Ministry rather than encouraging his government agencies to work together to help improve the situation.

In contrast, other parts of Romania are experiencing a heat wave, which has lasted for about a month and is reported to have killed many people. Several have drowned while cooling off in rivers, including a father who died in the Siret River while attempting to save the lives of his two daughters.

The European Commission has given its view of the effect of the Kosovo crisis on the economy of Romania. In preparation for a meeting of Group Seven finance ministers, it was reported that the Commission are of the opinion that the impact on Romania is less than on its neighbours. (Reuters, Brussels, 13 July 1999). The key area affected was the Danube river traffic. However, the Commission believe that Romania could benefit from the transit of goods through its country by alternative routes.

On Tuesday, Emil Constantinescu lashed out at the West, questioning their treatment of Romania in the aftermath of the Kosovan conflict. "Every day, a personality from NATO or the European Union is coming to Bucharest to congratulate us for the way we acted, as if we were a NATO country. But, we have neither the security guarantees nor the advantages of NATO countries." (Reuters, Bucharest, 13 July 1999) The President went on to point out that the support Romania had given NATO during the Kosovo conflict had, in his opinion, disadvantaged the country. He highlighted losses of USD 1 billion as a result of supporting the trade embargo on Yugoslavia.

A potential solution to this problem was put forward by the Dutch Foreign Minister Jozias van Aartsen, when he returned from a visit to the Balkans, including Romania, on Thursday. He has proposed an "energy for democracy" plan whereby communities in Yugoslavia who actively work for democracy should be rewarded with oil - which is at present subject to an international embargo. "It is important to give an impulse to communities that are striving for democracy," a Dutch foreign ministry spokesman said. (Reuters, The Hague 15 July 1999)

Also on Thursday, NATO's supreme commander, General Wesley Clark, held talks with the Romanian President in Bucharest. At a press conference General Clarke said, "Our perspective on the issue of NATO membership is that it is not possible to speculate usefully on this issue at this time. But NATO and NATO members are very aware of Romania's courageous and forthright acceptance of the risks and burdens of participating in helping to resolve this common security problem during the Kosovan conflict." (Reuters, Bucharest,15 July 1999)

It has further been reported by Moniturul (15 July 1999) that the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has written to Romanian Prime Minister, Radu Vasile, to thank Romania for their support during the Kosovan conflict. Mr. Blair was grateful for the firmness of the Romanian government and went on to support the idea that Romania would start negotiations in December on EU membership. Mr. Blair has subsequently been criticised by German and Scandinavian politicians who seem to be against greater expansion of the European Union.

In an interview given to Reuters on 13 July, former President Ion Iliescu roundly criticised Constantinescuís current administration. Iliescu, who, according to recent opinion polls, holds a lead over his rivals, complained that the centrist government was divided and had a very sparse record as far as their reforms were concerned. He went on to say that if he and his party were returned to power in next year's presidential and general elections, he would institute a "New Deal" for Romania. He proposed subsidies to increase agricultural output and said that he would bring arbitrary factory closures to an end.

On Thursday, former deputy defence minister, Victor Atanasie Stanculescu, and the former head of the chemical weapons department, Mihai Chitac, were both sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for their part in the attempted suppression of the revolution which began in the city of Timisoara in December 1989. Both men were sent to Timisoara with orders to arrest and shoot protesters by Romania's Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. In court, both men used as their defence the fact that they had only been following orders - but following those orders left 72 people dead and 253 injured. Victor Atanasie Stanculescu, now in his seventies, was in court to hear the verdict, but Mihai Chitac is believed to be in Greece.

A new bill is to go before parliament which, if approved, should increase pensions by a sufficient amount to cover the average rate of price rises that have been experienced since 1990,reports Labour Minister Alexandru Athanasiu (Moniturul 12 July 1999). In May, the average pension was 741,344 lei. It is hoped that, by the end of the year, the average pension will rise to 1,000,000 lei (about USD 60).

In preparation for membership in the EU, it was announced on Tuesday that Slovenia would require Romanian citizens to obtain visas in order to enter the country. This step will bring Slovenia in line with other members of the EU and follows a similar decision made last week by the Romanian government.

Dan Florescu, chief cashier of Romania's central bank (BNR) revealed on Monday that the new 2,000 lei banknote would be made out of plastic; a novel but bizarre concept. The plastic banknote has a range of security features which will make it almost impossible to counterfeit. Its design celebrates the millennium and the total solar eclipse which will be experienced in Romania during August of this year.

Catherine Lovatt and David Lovatt, 16 July 1999















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