Central Europe Review: politics, society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 6, 2 August 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

Catherine and David Lovatt

The Romanian government announced that companies making personnel cuts as a result of restructuring will be given 30 million lei for each employee kept on by the firm. This money will have to be used either for development projects or to increase production capacity and assurances that no further lay-offs will happen in the future must be given. These plans were announced as part of the government's attempt to enforce social protection regulations. Redundancy is a problem in a number of firms. At the Sidex steel mill production has been cut to 10,000 tonnes per day and will result in an initial 700 jobs lost followed by a further 5250 in the near future. Renault confirmed that they will have purchased 51 percent of Dacia shares by 1 September. This will mark the beginning of major restructuring which will see the loss of 11,300 jobs by the year 2004. The restructuring of central state television (TVR) will lead to 65 percent of production department staff losing their jobs by next June.

The Romanian government has removed its financial support for the Rafo and Petromidia oil refineries. Radu Sirbu, head of Romania's state privatisation agency, FPS, reported that three bids have been submitted for the purchase of Petromidia. Meanwhile, the problems associated with the failed take-over of Petromidia by Akmaya and the Turkish company's agreement with the FPS are to be heard by the Bucharest Court.

Romania's domestic sugar refineries are reported to be almost out of stock. As a result most sugar supplies are being imported, and the retail price has risen by 50 percent over the last few days.

Simona Marinescu, state secretary of the Labour and Social Protection Ministry, announced that pensions are to be adjusted by 2.3 percent from July to bring them in line with inflation. This move is expected to cost 460 billion lei by the year's end.

Romanian police have launched an investigation into the death of Stephan Vrabioru, a football player who played for the first division club, Astra Ploiesti. Vrabioru collapsed soon after coming on the field as a substitute during a match against Rapid Bucharest. He was pronounced dead-on-arrival upon reaching the hospital. Initial reports show that Vrabioru had a litre of blood in his stomach yet had no history of heart or stomach problems, neither was there any evidence to show he had suffered any blows. Romania's Forensic Institute are now looking for drug or virus related links. The daily paper Ziua said, "Stefan Vrabioru's death has brought to light almost all the shortcomings of Romanian soccer."

During a visit to Bucharest, Vuk Draskovic, leader of the Serbian Renewal Movement, the main Serbian opposition party, asked Romanian President Emil Constantinescu to intervene and negotiate with the EU and the US on behalf of Serbia. He believes that Serbia should not be isolated from European structures and has an important future role to play in the economy of the Balkans and hence in the stability of the region.

This request comes at the same time as the Romanian and Bulgarian governments are urging the EU to provide funds to unblock the Danube in Yugoslavia. The disruption of this trade route is having a devastating effect on the Romanian economy. The proposal also has the support of Hungary and Austria. The head of Romania's foreign policy committee, Victor Bostinaru, has expressed confidence that the EU will give a positive response.

In response to President Emil Constantinescu's criticism of the West's failure to compensate Romania for trade losses during the oil embargo imposed against Yugoslavia, Foreign Minister Andrei Plesu, maintained that Romania is following the correct policy and believes that the oil embargo will be lifted in the near future. With this, Plesu meant to say that internal problems were the cause of Romania's crisis and that neither NATO nor the EU were to blame. He told the daily Evenimentul zilei that "the evil lies with us and we should do our best to remove it."

Romanian Prime Minster Radu Vasile said that he expected the IMF loan to Romania to be confirmed on 4 August. However, he criticised the way in which the IMF continued to impose new conditions on Romania. Vasile stated that "this behaviour is out of the ordinary. New conditions kept appearing after we agreed on certain elements... We hope that on 4 August this will be clinched, but I must admit I am afraid that someone here or there (in Washington) will come up with an additional reason or condition." This comes as a response to IMF urges to speed up the restructuring of Bancorex. If the IMF fulfils its promised loan of USD 475 million, the World Bank will give Romania a further loan of USD 325 million.

The European Commission announced that it was giving EUR 100 million to Romania. The aid is intended to help the Romanian government in its restructuring and privatisation programme. The Commission said: "The EU programme will not only assist the government in implementing the restructuring policies but will also alleviate the consequences of enterprise closure through a strengthened social safety net and through the promotion of employment initiatives." This follows the announcement that the EU executive approved a loan of EUR 200 million to Romania.

Monetary Affairs Commissioner Yves-Thibault de Silguy said that the EU aid to Romania "demonstrates the EU's willingness to support at this critical moment the countries affected by the Kosovo conflict." These comments have been made in the run-up to the Sarajevo summit, which begins 30 July. The summit is to be attended by heads of state and government representatives of the EU, the US, Russia as well as countries immediately neighbouring Yugoslavia.

Romanian Prime Minster Radu Vasile and his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban met at Tigur Mures in the heart of Transylvania, where over 1.6 million ethnic Hungarians live. They discussed ethnic conflicts, Hungarian language universities and the restitution of church property in Romania. They also spoke of the 300,000-strong Hungarian minority and the 60,000 ethnic Romanians in the Yugoslavian province of Vojvodina.

Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) leader Ion Iliescu criticised the discussions, particularly where establishing Hungarian-language universities was concerned. Iliescu firmly stated that Romanian should be the language of instruction in any educational institution.

Bulgaria's veterinary authorities released information regarding an outbreak of blue-tongue disease (fatal to animals) in the Bourgas Black Sea region. Animals contracting this disease, thought to be spread by mosquitoes, develop a blue tongue and swollen mucus membranes with death following within three days. Romania's Agriculture Ministry immediately banned all imports of livestock from Bulgaria. They additionally restricted grazing on the 5km strip of land which marks the common border, instituted spot checks on livestock in a 30km strip and began spraying insecticides over lakes in the area. "We have not been officially informed of any bans on import of Bulgarian livestock introduced by Romania or any other country," a Bulgarian National Veterinary Service (NVS) official told Reuters.

Romania's Health Ministry has issued disturbing reports about cases of viral meningitis and typhoid fever from several areas in the country. In the cities of Iasi and Suceava about 200 cases of meningitis have been diagnosed among children and young people from poor areas - some cases have also been recorded in Bucharest. Two children in the eastern town of Bacau have been diagnosed as having typhoid fever.

Romania has been struck by floods for the second time this month. One person is known to have died and at least 50 communities in the northwest part of the country are without power. In eastern Romania 500 hectares of agricultural land is under water and many bridges have been damaged.

Objects owned by former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and confiscated after his 1989 execution are to go on display next week prior to being auctioned. Among the items up for grabs are hats, at USD 12, a customised bus with kitchen and telephone for USD 75,000, a Mercedes sports car for USD 50,000, a mink coat for USD 875, an imitation crocodile leather handbag for USD 43 and a pair of Ceausescu's hunting boots for USD 62. Aurel Vlaicu of the Administration of State Property (APPS) set the starting prices for the entire lot of 650 items at USD 280,000.

Catherine Lovatt and David Lovatt, 30 July 1999


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