Tuesday, February 19, 2008

KOSOVO: Romania 'Schizophrenic' Over Independence

By Claudia Ciobanu

BUCHAREST, Feb 18 (IPS) - Leaders of Romania, one of the European Union (EU) members not ready to recognise declaration of independence by Kosovo, are having a hard time justifying their opposition to birth of the new state.

Cyprus is considered the most staunch opponent of independence, Slovakia and Bulgaria the mildest, while Spain, Greece and Romania have declared that they would not recognise a unilateral declaration of independence from Kosovo.

The countries opposing independence argue that such a step will lead to destabilisation of the Balkans and of countries with large ethnic minorities.

Romania is concerned about the Hungarian minority in the country. Hungarians represent about 7 percent of the population of Romania (22 million), but close to 20 percent in the western region of Transylvania. While some voices in the country claim that Hungarians will attempt to declare independence using the Kosovo precedent, a more realistic expectation is that Hungarians will seek strengthening of their rights, and increased local autonomy.

With most media channels broadcasting statements of analysts setting out doom scenarios about the future of Transylvania, and 30 young representatives of the Hungarian community demonstrating in the Transylvanian city Cluj in support of Kosovo independence, the moderate message of Marko Bela, leader of the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR), could easily pass unnoticed.

At a press conference in Bucharest Monday, Marko Bela said the Kosovo case can only represent a precedent in terms of the need for international actors to get involved in strengthening rights of ethnic minorities. No analogy should be made otherwise between Kosovo and the status of other regions around the Balkans, said Bela.

Bela said that although his party is the only one in Romania supporting Kosovo independence, "sooner or later, Romania, as a member state of the European Union, will have to recognise the new independent state."

The Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania is one of the two parties making up the minority government of the country. So even though Romanian foreign minister Adrian Cioroianu went to Brussels to present the anti-independence stance of his country, this position is not supported by the other member of the governing coalition.

UDMR has been a member of the country's government since 1996, surviving several changes in power of the left and right political forces.

Bela has reasserted the commitment of his party to finding political solutions to the problems of the Hungarian minority "through partnership, and through sending our representatives to the parliament and to the government, whenever possible."

But Bela warned that he has noticed recent attempts to reverse the progress made since 1989 in the relationship between Romanians and Hungarians. As examples, he mentioned legislative initiatives to close down Hungarian schools in the country, and delays in adoption of a law for minorities. Bela stressed the need to improve the rights of minorities, and called for EU involvement.

But Romanian leaders opposing Kosovo independence are also concerned that such a precedent could give more grounds to the separatist pro-Russian regime in Transdniester in southern Moldova. Moldova is a country of four million, sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine, where the majority of the population is ethnically Romanian.

There has been speculation that Romanian President Traian Basescu is negotiating with Russia and the United States to allow for a union between Romania and a Moldova without Trasndniester, in exchange for Bucharest reversing its stance on Kosovo. But historian Armand Gosu says Basescu does not have the influence to negotiate at this level.

"Opposition to the independence of Kosovo comes from a political class that has been educated in a nationalistic spirit," Gosu told IPS. "Romania's position on Kosovo does not make any sense, it is schizophrenic." While Romania declares itself against the independence of Kosovo, he says, it has committed itself to participating in the EU law and order mission that will assist state building in the newly established state.

Furthermore, Gosu claims that opposition to Kosovo independence contradicts the country's status as NATO member and strategic partner of countries like the United States and France, who are recognising independence.

"The political class in Romania is against independence for electoral reasons as well," Gosu told IPS. "They are afraid that the electorate might punish them otherwise, as they punished president Emil Constantinescu, who, in 1999, allowed NATO to use Romanian air space during its action against Milosevic. That is why Constantinescu lost the elections." (END/2008)

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