Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 8, 16 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

On 11 August the last eclipse of the millennium passed over the Romanian town of Rimnicu Vilcea. The shadow of the moon covered the town in almost complete darkness for two minutes and twenty-seven seconds. The bells of the town's churches rang out in the darkness to ward off evil spirits prophesised by Romanian folklore.
The eclipse was watched by Romanian president, Emil Constantinescu, from the Romanian Astronomical Observatory in Bucharest. He was joined by the US ambassador to Romania, the Romanian ambassador to the US and director Daniel Goldin of the US space agency (NASA). Several other US astronomers also set up observation posts in Bucharest, the only European capital city in the direct path of the eclipse. (see related story in this week's CER)

On the previous day Constantinescu met the Italian tenor, Luciano Pavarotti, upon his arrival in Romania for an open air concert. The concert went ahead on the evening of 11 August in Bucharest's Constitution Square. Pavarotti had demanded that part of the square should be open for free public access during his concert. He wanted as many people as possible to have the opportunity to hear the concert regardless of their ability to pay USD 200 for a ticket.

The Romanian central bank (BCR) issued 4 million 500 lei coins to be distributed among the population to commemorate the last eclipse of the millennium.

The eclipse fooled ponies at Bucharest zoo. The animals which normally mate at night were fooled by the darkness cast by the eclipse but the rapid return of daylight brought their antics to an end.

These astronomical events continued when on the night of 12 August, in areas where there were clear skies, spectacular Perseid meteor showers were visible.

The US Congress approved a resolution which recommended the re-phasing or even cancellation of Romania's debts. The wording of the resolution emphasised Romania's "development according to a market economy and a democratic leadership that observes the rights of all the citizens, irrespective of their ethnic belonging." Furthermore it was stated that it would be US policy "to support Romania's territorial integrity and to insist for its observance by all the neighbouring countries and all the political forces within or outside the country." Even so Congress demanded that Romania "accelerate the necessary economic reforms, especially the privatization of the state-owned enterprises, as well as the privatization of the agriculture." However Mircea Geoana, Romanian Ambassador to the US, warned against euphoria based on this news believing the resolution to be a purely political act.

On his return from the US the Romanian president warned that the IMF loan announced at the end of last week will not be an end to austerity. He went on to explain that the government will have to meet the terms and conditions of the loan but said that the "People must know very clearly what will happen next."

"I'm very confident that all targets agreed with the IMF will be fulfilled," Romanian Finance Minister, Traian Remes, told a news conference on 13 August. He said that the IMF loan would give Romania the opportunity to gain better finance deals on the international market. The first part of the loan, USD 73 million, was released this week with further installments due in October, December and March 2000, as long as the government meets its promised targets.

The Bucharest Prosecutors Office has been investigating allegations that the Romanian president was once a CIA agent. Former Securitate officer, Andrei Zeno, named other former officers to substantiate the allegations that he made in July. All the former officers deny that Constantinescu was under surveillance and the former head of American counterintelligence has stated that Zeno was not in a position to know about the actions the president was accused of. It is thought that Zeno is likely to be sued.

Marko Bela, the leader of the Hungarian alliance (UDMR), has criticised the proposed bill to restore property seized by both the fascists and the communists. Bela is unhappy that property formally owned by religious orders is not to be encompassed by the proposed legislation.

This comes at a time when Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, has criticised the Romanian government over its failure to authorise the establishment of Hungarian language universities. He said: "Romania's intention is firm but negative. It doesn't want to authorise such a university."

Members of the Social Democratic Party (PSDR) will meet at the end of August to discuss a merger with the Alliance for Romania Party (ApR). This appears to be part of a plan to create a Social-Democratic group which could also include the Democratic Party(PD), led by Petre Roman. ApR spokesperson, Marian Enache, said that if the merger did not occur then the ApR would fight the next general election alone. It is believed that Iosif Boda, vice -president of the ApR, is to leave the party to enter the diplomatic service.

A gathering, to celebrate the 70th anniversary of a miners strike which was put down by the army, was addressed by former president, Ion Illiescu. He used the opportunity to criticise the current government for using violence against striking miners and called on those present to stand firm until he returns to power and repairs the damage done by the present administration. A spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence is reported to view the "presence of certain politicians at this gathering as being an insult to the army."

During this week trade union disputes have come to the fore. The Trade Unions Federation of the Romanian Public Television (FSUTVR) came into conflict with employers because of the number of jobs lost through restructuring. At the same time, employees of the city cleaning services in Bucharest have taken strike action over working conditions as well as job secutrity.

A dispute at the Brasov company, Tractorul, has been brought to an end with the workforce agreeing to wage increases of 50 percent before the end of the year. This agreement follows a strike by the 1500 employees of the factory.

The number of people who have contracted meningitis in Romania has now reached 1285 - about 400 more cases than last week. Cases have been reported in Botosani, Bacau, Neamt, Constanta and Suceava. So far no attributable deaths have been reported.

The high temperatures in Bucharest are putting pressure on the ambulance service which is answering at least 1000 calls a day. A growing number of people are fainting while out and about, the most vulnerable being the elderly and those suffering from heart disease. Dr. Lucia Oana of the ambulance service said that many people were suffering ill-effects because they were not drinking enough water.

On Friday, the Romanian Sports Research Institute said that Stefan Vrabioru, the football player who died last month during a game with his team, the first division Astra Ploiesti, had tested positive for an anabolic steroid. "We found traces of methandienone, an anabolic steroid, which Stefan Vrabioru took several days before his death," Mia Lamor, a biochemist with the Institute, told Reuters. This is the first positive test to be found in Romanian football but it was emphasised that the drug was not responsible for Vrabioru's death.

FIFA general secretary Michael Zen Ruffinen has asked Romanian football's ruling body to investigate complaints against Dumitru Dragomir, the president of the Professional Football League. The weekly tabloid Atac la persoana, owned by Dragomir, has allegedly published antisemitic articles. Mircea Sandu, head of the Romanian Football Federation (FRF), said that the FRF would issue a report later this week. Sandu has also let it be known that he asked for support in the investigation from the Prosecutor's Office and from the Romanian Intelligence Service.

The auction of the personal belongings of Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena took place throughout eclipse week. Incidentally, Elena believed that Romania would be hit by earthquakes on the day of the solar eclipse. The sale was held in the dining room of the Primaverri Villa, the Ceausescu's residence in Bucharest. Over 500 people have paid a registration fee of USD 12 to attend and take part in the auction. 650 lots were on offer ranging from cars to a proletarian cap. The cap, which belonged to Ceausescu, made an early sale along with his miners outfit. The cap sold for USD 215 and the outfit for USD 400. The first item sold was a 1974 Buick - it went for USD 15,000.

Catherine Lovatt and David Lovatt, 13 August1999


Evenimentul zilei / EvZ online








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