Saturday, February 28, 2009

Romania's communist ex-PM Manescu dies at 92

Published: February 28,2009

Bucharest (Romania), Feb 28 (AFP) Former Romanian prime minister Manea Manescu, a close ally of the country&aposs communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, has died at the age of 92, media reports said today. Manescu, who joined the communist party in 1944, held several posts before being appointed premier in 1974, a post he held until 1979.

At the time of the anti-communist uprising in 1989 which brought down Ceausescu he was a member of the party&aposs executive Politbureau. On December 22 that year he accompanied the fleeing dictator and his wife Elena on the helicopter taking them away from the party&aposs central committee building as it was stormed by tens of thousands of demonstrators. In February 1990 he was handed a life sentence for"genocide"along with three other top officials in the regime, accused of putting down the uprising.

Emergency plane landing in Romania; all 51 safe

By DRAGOS BOTA
Associated Press Writer

A Romanian plane carrying 51 people made a safe emergency landing in western Romania on Saturday and all the occupants escaped injury, officials said.

The Carpatair flight's front landing gear became stuck and the plane circled Timisoara International Airport for almost two hours, using up its fuel to avoid a potential fire before it landed on a 200-yard (200-meter) long bed of foam laid out by firefighters, officials said.

At least 10 ambulances and three fire engines were waiting for the stricken plane, the emergency department said.

Dan Andrei, the airline's vice president, said, "the plane came down on the side wheels; it braked sharply and at a low speed it came on its front belly, while the front landing gear remained stuck."

The company said the two Moldovan pilots - Iurie Oleacov, 37, and Leonid Babischi, 47 -were highly experienced.

The Saab 2000 aircraft was carrying 47 passengers and four crew members on its flight from the Moldovan capital, Chisinau, to Timisoara, airport spokeswoman Carmen Stoica said. Romanian border police, who deal with international customs, said the plane was carrying 11, Romanians, 23 Moldovans, nine Italians, two Greeks and two Germans. The crew is Moldovan.

Timisoara ambulance chief Iancu Leonida said no one was hurt, but people were very frightened.

"There are no injured people, although some might have minor scratches, but they are very scared and traumatized," he said. "They are being given medical care."

Realitatea TV broadcast footage of passengers hugging and kissing people who had come to meet them at the airport. One unidentified female passenger with gray hair and tears in her eyes told the TV the passengers did not know about the landing gear and had thought there was a problem with ice and fog.

The airport was closed for 2 1/2 hours Saturday morning after the incident.

A Romanian Transportation Ministry team arrived in Timisoara to investigate the incident.

Romania Needs EU10 Bln in Financing, Central Bank Adviser Says

By Adam Brown and Irina Savu

Feb. 27 (Bloomberg) -- Romania needs 10 billion euros ($13 billion) in external financing this year to cover its current account and budget gaps, central bank adviser Eugen Radulescu said.

Radulescu, an adviser to the governor, also said in an interview with the Money Channel in Bucharest that a 24.5 billion-euro aid package for eastern Europe announced today by various lenders would only cover part of the region’s needs.

“Romania needs 10 billion euros this year,” Radulescu said.

Eastern Europe’s governments are facing difficulties financing their budget and current-account deficits as investors shun riskier assets. Countries including Hungary, Ukraine and Latvia needed aid from the IMF and the EU to avert defaults.

Romania will decide next week on soliciting a package of loans from the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and other lenders to cover its shortfalls, Banca Nationala a Romaniei Governor Mugur Isarescu said in a news conference yesterday. He didn’t say how much the country would seek.

The World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the European Investment Bank said earlier today in a joint statement that they will provide up to 24.5 billion euros to help central and east European banks and businesses cope with the global financial crisis.

“It’s obvious this package by the three institutions won’t represent all the funds,” Radulescu said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Adam Brown in Bucharest at abrown23@bloomberg.net

How to annoy someone from central or eastern Europe

The Financial Times

By Stefan Wagstyl

Published: February 27 2009 19:59 | Last updated: February 27 2009 19:59

Seen from London and other places that might still be called the commanding heights of global finance, the countries of eastern Europe look much of a muchness. With the big exception of Russia, the rest tend to merge when viewed by crisis-weary traders glued to their screens. Sell one, sell all has been the motto. And down they all have gone – the Polish zloty, the Romanian leu and the benighted Ukrainian hryvnia.

Journalists too, including this one, often put everything together under one headline. “Turmoil over eastern Europe”, “Eastern Europe fears trigger rush for safety”, and so on. With little space and time what else can be done?

All this irritates friends in Warsaw, Prague and Bucharest. They cannot understand why, if they take the trouble to distinguish Spain from Portugal and Belgium from the Netherlands, west Europeans struggle to separate Czechs from Slovaks and Ukrainians from Russians (though the last one can be tricky since there are Ukrainians who think they are Russians).

In the crisis this matters. Countries doing better than their neighbours – Poland, for example – hate to be lumped with those that are not, such as debt-laden Hungary. So they plead for differentiation from bankers (and journalists). But they cannot go too far in emphasising the distinctions for fear of criticising their neighbours’ policies – and finance officials are normally too polite to do that.

So, it was a bit surprising to hear Jacek Rostowski, the very polite Polish finance minister, last week comparing his nation’s finances with Hungary’s. Explaining why he was not relaxing the budgetary purse strings, he told parliament: “There is some danger that going in the direction of increasing the deficit, we would end up like Hungary.” To make sure dozy backbenchers got the message, he said: “We are looking for a Polish answer to a Polish problem.”

Mojmir Hampl, deputy governor of the Czech central bank, struck a similar note this week. Writing in the FT, he said: “Some countries east of the Danube are suffering under the burden of huge franc-, dollar- or euro-denominated debts, accumulated either by the government or by the private sector, or both.”

Even if they are being rude about the neighbours, they are right to say important distinctions are lost. In financial terms, the region divides into three categories. First come Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia (readers unfamiliar with the territory should note that the last two are not the same, even though one regional financial institution once mixed them up, illustrating a report on Slovakia with a map of Slovenia, or perhaps it was the other way around.) These four states insist they have their external and fiscal positions under control and believe they can contain emerging difficulties in banking. No way are they going to the International Monetary Fund.

Next come countries with potential difficulties financing their external deficits, including Romania, Bulgaria, Estonia and Lithuania. One or more may have to go to the IMF. Finally, there are Hungary, Latvia and Ukraine with problems so urgent they are already on IMF support.

All except Ukraine are inside the European Union, which is of considerable help, even when some rich western EU members have been unenthusiastic about a whip-round for eastern Europe. Slovakia and Slovenia are also in the eurozone. The rest would like to join them but may have to wait until the storm blows over, when, for some, it might be too late.

More is at stake than weathering the crisis. These countries have never liked being lumped together as eastern Europe. The phrase is geographically inaccurate as Europe’s cartographic centre lies in Poland, Lithuania or Belarus (depending on whom you ask). Central Europe suits the Poles, Czechs, and Hungarians quite well. But it cannot be stretched to include Ukraine or Bulgaria.

Historically, the region is divided by fault lines – between Slav and non-Slav peoples, between western Christendom and Orthodoxy, and between the region’s former empires – Russia, Germany, Turkey and Austria-Hungary.

In fact the only time the region was united was under communism, when the distinction between unfree eastern Europe and free western Europe was painfully real. After the fall of communism, countries are becoming diverse as the common socialist experience fades. Joining the EU has not blurred these distinctions any more than it has made Frenchmen out of Germans. Quite the opposite, the liberty to rediscover the past and build an independent future has increased the variety of life.

Even casual visitors, except perhaps the participants of British stag parties, cannot fail to appreciate each country’s special characteristics: the easy charm of Prague, the grandeur of Budapest, or the half-French half-Oriental corners of Bucharest. In remote places, each nation’s uniqueness is even more apparent – in the painted monasteries of northern Transylvania, the old mosque in Pecs, in Hungary, and the wooden churches of the Carpathian mountains in Poland. Hungry tourists cannot eat in an “East European” restaurant because there aren’t any. They must choose between Hungarian (or Romanian, Polish etc) and the ubiquitous Italian. Nor can they wash down their food with “East European” beer or “East European” wine.

In fact, among the few benefits of the “Crisis in Eastern Europe” is that currency swings have made these pleasures cheaper now for most west Europeans. Except, of course, for the British, but that is another story.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Abundant quality at Romanian Film Festival here this weekend

February 27, 2009

"They live in a small country that has often found itself in the path of imperial powers, a condition they address with guile, stubbornness and a measure of grace. And lately with some pretty great movies."

That's how film critic A.O. Scott concluded his rave review of the Romanian film "California Dreamin'" in the New York Times in January. "California" is just the latest film out of the relatively small Eastern European country of Romania, along with "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" and "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu," to gain international acclaim.

Madison international film fans have been fortunate to be able to tap into this new wellspring of quality films with the Romanian Film Festival, a free homegrown festival showcasing the best in the country's film, including movies that have played nowhere else in the U.S. ("California Dreamin'" played at last year's festival.)

This year's festival includes some brand-new films by some of Romania's New Wave of young directors, along with some short films that were honored this year at the Cannes and Berlin Film Festivals, and a couple of classic films that date back to when the country was still under Communist rule. Not bad for a country that doesn't have much of a film industry in terms of output or dollars.

"These films came from such a small number of directors," said Elena Richard, director of the festival. "If you look at how many movies Romania produces, and you look at the quality, there's a lot of very good films selected from a very small number."

Richard moved from Madison to Flagstaff, Arizona last summer, but continued to program this year's festival, which is sponsored by the Romanian Cultural Institute and the UW-Madison's Center for Romania, Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

All the screenings take place at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art's lecture hall, 207 State St. through Saturday. All screenings are free and open to the public, and every film features English subtitles.

The showpiece of this year's festival is a series of short films at 4 p.m. Saturday that include two big festival winners. "Megatron" won the Palme d'Or for Best Short Film at last year's Cannes Film Festival, while "A Good Day for A Swim" won the prestigious Golden Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival.

Both films focus on deceptively small events -- "Megatron" revolves around a Romanian boy who wants to go to a fast-food restaurant for his birthday -- that hint at larger, darker truths.

"They have subjects that seem very mundane, and are treated very casually," Richard said. "But they have this emotional aspect. They have these undertones and suggestions of things that might happen that you don't see. You're left with this impresson that something terrible has happened or will happen."

Ecaterina DiMancea Dumbraveanu, project manager of the Romanian Cultural Institute, has traveled from Bucharest to Madison to attend this year's festival and take part in a Saturday night discussion on Romanian film. She said the common thread between the short films and celebrated features like "4 Months" is the realism on screen, allowing the audience to be utterly pulled into the story.

"They are very pure," Dumbraveanu said. "You see them and you see the director doesn't lie to you. He tells you the truth and you believe him. It's a great thing about the catharsis of film, when you go to the cinema to see a movie and you are actually in the movie. Not for a moment do you feel superficial or that you are told a story. You are with them."

That on-screen honesty has not come easily for a country that spent decades under the repressive rule of Nicolae Ceaucescu. Back then, films tended to stoke the nationalist fires of the regime or pass along its propaganda.

"They made a lot of movies about historical figures," Dumbraveanu said. "But all the historical figures were speaking the way Ceaucescu spoke. It is actually very funny to see them."

After Ceaucescu was overthrown and executed for his crimes in 1989, Romanian filmmakers found themselves suddenly and totally free to make whatever films they wanted. Dumbraveanu and Richard said that freedom wasn't necessarily a plus, and many of the films made in the 1990s were graphic and incomprehensible messes.

But about 10 years ago, a new and younger generation of filmmakers began making movies, and their New Wave has marked the worldwide interest in Romanian Film. Just as the country itself has survived some dark times, the movies often deal with dark subject matter but retain the possibility of a brighter future.

"Even when you watch something like 'The Death of Mr. Lazarescu' or '4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days," they seem very depressing due to what they're showing," Richard said. "They have a very hard-to-watch subject -- someone dying, someone going through an abortion. It's harrowing. But both of these films at the end, they show you hope.



Romanian Film Festival schedule

7 p.m. Friday -- "Day Bar and Other Stories," a documentary about the regulars in a "day bar" (a state-owned relic from the days of Communism) that focuses more on personal accounts and less on historical context.

8:30 p.m. Friday -- "Tache" is a typically black comedy for Romanian film, about a gravedigger who tries to organize a grand funeral for himself and secure the best plot in the graveyard, only to run into one obstacle after another.

noon Saturday -- "Sequences" is a rare 1982 Romanian film that was preserved by the New York Museum of Modern Art. It's actually three short films about the lives of the cast and crew filming a movie called "Happiness."

2 p.m. Saturday -- "Elevator" is what an indie film in Romania looks like. Made for just 200 euros, the film looks at two young lovers who get trapped together in a cargo elevator in an abandoned warehouse.

4 p.m. Saturday -- The festival's short film program includes "Megatron," a family drama that won an award at Cannes, and "A Good Day for a Swim," a short about three teenage delinquents on a destructive lark.

6 p.m. Saturday -- "Exhange" looks at the transition from socialism to capitalism in Romania, as a couple try to raise enough money to flee the country, only to find all their savings are lost. The husband soon finds that he has a knack for surviving in the untamed world of capitalism.

For more information, visit http://uwromania.rso.wisc.edu/ROFILM.



Romanian villagers who built own bridge are probed

By ALINA WOLFE MURRAY – 1 hour ago

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Tired of waiting for authorities to replace a bridge swept away last July by floods, Romanian villagers have finally given up — and built their own.

The catch: They didn't have a permit. Now they're the subject of a criminal investigation.

Prosecutor Viorel Damu said Friday that police are trying to identify those who worked on the bridge, which was built in a single day, Feb. 6. The guilty parties could be jailed for three years or fined up to 70,000 lei ($20,800), he said.

The mayor called that "absurd." He said villagers tested the bridge and limited the allowable weight to 2.5 tons. And they'll tear it down again, too, he said — just as soon as authorities find time build a new one.

Marginea was cut in half when the river overflowed seven months ago, making it difficult to get from one part of the village to the other. Police may be investigating, but on Thursday the prime minister commended the villagers' "solidarity."

And even the prosecutor seemed to relent. He said the villagers could escape punishment if an investigation concludes they acted out of a "state of necessity."

S&P doubts Romania's ability to pursue fiscal tightening

* S&P doubts Romania's ability to pursue fiscal tightening
* Sees Romania entering recession this year
* Sees budget gap at 6.2 pct/GDP vs 2 pct government target
* Sees euro zone entry in 2015-2020
* Maintains "junk" status, keeps negative outlook
By Marius Zaharia

BUCHAREST, Feb 27 (Reuters) - Standard & Poor's, the first agency to downgrade Romania to a "junk" rating, warned on Friday that Bucharest's stringent fiscal plans may be threatened by social pressures and unrealistic expectations of economic growth. Romania's centre-left coalition approved an austerity 2009 budget last week. It set an ambitious fiscal deficit goal of 2 percent of GDP, compared with over 5 percent last year, in an effort praised by the central bank and the International Monetary Fund.

But S&P analyst Marko Mrsnik said the agency was still not convinced that Bucharest can fulfil its plans, four months after it downgraded Romania.

"The problem is that firstly, (the budget) is based on underlying macroeconomic assumptions which appear overly optimistic and secondly is going to prove difficult to be implemented," Mrsnik told Reuters in an interview.

"The strength of the government coalition may be tested as the planned fiscal restraint may come under pressure due to popular demands for increased spending in order to cushion the effects of the ongoing economic downturn."

S&P downgraded Romania's foreign currency credit by one notch in October to "BB+", with a negative outlook, due to a lack of fiscal response to its vast external deficit which has left the economy vulnerable during the global cash squeeze.

Mrsnik maintained this rating and outlook. A presidential election later this year posed another risk for fiscal tightening, he said, adding that he was sceptical about the budget's projection of 2.5 percent economic growth.

He now forecasts the economy will shrink 0.8 percent this year, compared with a previous estimate of 0.8 percent growth, largely due to a deterioration in the external environment.
Mrsnik sees the budget deficit widening to 6.2 percent of GDP in 2009 and inflation at 5.3 percent, above an officially targeted 2.5-4.5 percent.

IMF TEST
A potential deal with the IMF would signal the government is willing to pursue right policies to stabilise the economy, but the fiscal restraints which will be part of the deal may weaken the ruling coalition by boosting social unrest, Mrsnik said.

"Every such agreement comes also with some strings attached and the governing coalition might be tested as the government may face substantial pressure for additional budgetary outlays, especially in the area of social transfers," he added.

He did not rule out the possibility that potential fiscal constraints of an IMF deal could create a rupture in the coalition of President Traian Basescu's Democrat-Liberals and their leftist Social-Democrat partners.

Romania and Latvia are the only European Union members rated below investment grade. Romania is expected to follow the Baltic state's example and seek an aid package from international institutions, including the IMF.

Mrsnik also said that Romania was more likely to join the euro zone in the second half of the next decade, compared with its target of 2014. (Editing by David Stamp)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Former Romanian PM stands trial for corruption

Thursday, February 26, 2009

BUCHAREST, Romania: Former Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase has gone on trial accused of illegally raising funds for a failed presidential campaign.

Nastase faces corruption charges with five others at the country's Supreme Court in a case that the former prime minister says could last up to 10 years, with nearly 1,000 witnesses listed.

Prosecutors allege companies and state agencies were forced to pay fees to attend a conference that were used to pay for Nastase's unsuccessful run for the presidency in 2004.

The trial began Thursday but was adjourned until March 24 because some of the defendants did not have lawyers. Nastase was prime minister from 2000 to 2004. He says the charges are politically motivated.

Romania to ask for financial help

Thursday, February 26, 2009

BUCHAREST, Romania: The head of Romania's central bank said Thursday his country will ask the International Monetary Fund and the European Union for loans to help it fight the economic crisis.

"Romania's discussions with international and EU financing bodies refer to a program spreading over several years, because we have all the data to believe that this crisis will last," said Mugur Isarescu, the governor of the National Bank of Romania.

Isarescu said the government and the central bank are considering borrowing more than it is currently needed, to cover the lack of financing in the private sector and ensure economic growth. He did not specify a sum.

Like other countries in Eastern Europe, Romania is facing financial and economic difficulty after a period of rapid growth fueled in part by credit. Currencies across the region have fallen amid fears about the stability of banks in the region and concens that richer countries in Western Europe or the IMF may have to come to the rescue.

Hungary, Latvia and Ukraine have already turned to the IMF for help.

Isarescu said an IMF loan would be used to help protect foreign currency reserves, which stood at €26.2 billion ($33 billion) at the end of December.

"It is an infusion of large sums of foreign currency. The sums could reach 1, 2, 3 or 4 billion euros. It is a currency swap — it gives us the possibility to increase reserves and reach a certain level of credibility, without creating problems with inflation," Isarescu said.

The IMF warned earlier this month that Romania could slide into recession this year as its economic vulnerability has been raised by high trade and fiscal deficits. The government aims to narrow the deficit to 2 percent of gross domestic product this year, from more than 5 percent last year, partly by freezing state wages.

The Romanian national currency, the leu, has lost about 20 percent of its value in the past year. Unemployment is set to grow to more than 5 percent this year, the government predicts, with thousands of layoffs in the automobile and other industries.

Romania fights crime wave

26/02/2009

Two armed robberies in less than two months and the unprecedented theft of more than 50 weapons from an arms depot signal a crime wave in Romania.

By Paul Ciocoiu for Southeast European Times in Bucharest – 26/02/09

Romanian authorities are vowing to contain an outbreak of violent and sensational crimes. On February 13th, two people with guns entered the Transylvania Bank in Cluj-Napoca and left a minute later with more than 60,000 euros. Two bank employees suffered slight injuries. The perpetrators remain at large despite an extensive investigation.

This is only the second bank robbery in the history of Romania. The first took place in 1959.

The Cluj-Napoca holdup came a month after a Brasov currency-exchange robbery in which two people died and a third lost an eye. The brutality of the crime shocked the country. One suspect, a Moldovan citizen named Serghei Gorbunov, had left prison on a medical furlough and never returned -- sparking criticism of official laxity in issuing such furloughs.

Police have captured him and Serghei Gribenco, a fellow Moldovan. Newly installed Interior Minister Dan Nica told the daily Financiarul that pursuing Gribenco presented a challenge Romanian authorities "had not faced ... in 20 years", since he had "professional training in counterespionage".

In late January, thieves stole over 50 weapons from a military depot near Bucharest, the first theft of its kind in the country. Authorities still have not recovered the arms. The defence minister fired several high-ranking officers, including the head of the air force, while three other officers face charges of weapon theft and four more are under investigation for violating military rules.

In an effort to suppress the crime wave, Nica announced that 2,000 officers would join the national police force. He said the force would transfer 30% of its officers to crime-fighting activities and patrols.

Bucharest alone has a shortage of 1,200 policemen. Nica says the nation needs another 6,000 policemen, a figure that is expected to drop with the transfer of gendarmes and border police to more urgent assignments and with the graduation of 1,000 police academy students this summer.

Besides flooding the streets with police, the interior ministry wants to make laws less encouraging to criminals. It wants parliament to tighten the criteria for gun permits. Financial institutions that handle large sums of money will have to improve their security measures. Nica slammed banks for "indolence" on security, complaining that the Cluj-Napoca robbers found the bank easier to hold up than a market stall.

He underlined that his ministry is preparing for another spike in crime should Romanian criminals who escaped abroad return home from western countries afflicted by the global financial crisis.

According to a police report, Romania averaged a murder a day last year, while the number of financial frauds rose by a quarter in 2008.

Romania to Seek ‘Package’ of Loans, Central Bank Says

By Adam Brown and Irina Savu

Feb. 26 (Bloomberg) -- Romania’s government may seek a package of loans from the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and other organizations to ease the worst effects of the global financial crisis, the central bank governor said.

“We are still in the phase of evaluating this with the government and will probably conclude next week,” Mugur Isarescu told journalists at a televised news conference in the northern Romanian city of Cluj today. “We are talking with the IMF and the European Commission. There would probably be several loans - a package of financing from several sources.”

Eastern Europe’s governments are facing difficulties financing their budget and current-account deficits as investors shun riskier assets. Countries including Hungary, Ukraine and Latvia needed aid from the International Monetary Fund and the European Union to avert defaults.

Romania’s government aims to narrow the budget deficit to about 2 percent of gross domestic product this year, from about 5.2 percent last year by freezing state wages. It also predicts a 2009 current-account deficit of almost 10 percent of GDP this year, from almost 13 percent last year, or a record 16.9 billion euros ($22 billion).

Sharp Slowdown

Romania, which had the fastest-growing economy in the EU in the third quarter of last year, predicts a sharp slowdown this year that will lower budget revenue. The IMF said this month that the country probably faces a recession in 2009 and the central bank has little room to lower interest rates to stimulate growth.

Isarescu said Romania may also seek loans under existing agreements with the World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and other lenders. He gave no amount for the loans being sought.

He said any loan agreement may be extended over several years and “we have enough data that leads us to believe that this crisis will be prolonged.”

Isarescu earlier said the country should keep its target of adopting the euro in 2014 and avoid trying to accelerate entry to the euro zone.

“The problem lies in our power to enter the euro zone,” he said. “We have to undertake many reforms. It is possible that in a while we will see changes to criteria for entry, but I don’t foresee much relaxation.”

Isarescu made the comments day after Prime Minister Emil Boc said the government may accelerate plans to adopt the euro to more closely link the country’s economy with other EU members.

To contact the reporter on this story: Adam Brown in Bucharest at abrown23@bloomberg.net

NYT: Romania Shrugs Off Reminder of Its Past

BUCHAREST, Romania — What are the arts worth?

In straitened times it’s easy to mistake cost for value. You might also say it’s the difference between cash and culture, the price of something and what’s ultimately priceless.

Romanians, it seems, have been prone to confuse the two since even before the revolution that overthrew the country’s Communist dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, and executed him and his wife, Elena, nearly 20 years ago.

That’s one explanation, at least, for why, when the courts here recently ruled that some art formerly in the possession of the Ceausescu family should be returned to Nicolae’s only surviving child, Valentin, Romanians hardly blinked.

The art is mostly Romanian paintings, but also some Goya prints. That ruling was not quite an equivalent to German courts handing art formerly at Berchtesgaden over to Hitler’s relatives. But it was close.

A soft-spoken 60-year-old physicist who never helped run his father’s regime, Valentin Ceausescu has said the works he wanted to get back belonged to his own former wife, Iordana, an art historian and the daughter of a onetime Communist leader. Valentin’s father, who didn’t approve of the marriage, expelled her years ago to Canada.

Other works being returned, however, belonged to Valentin’s brother, Nicu, a much-loathed figure when he was the dictator’s heir apparent. He died of cirrhosis in 1996, at 45. (Ceausescu’s third child, a daughter, Zoe, who also had some works of art, died from lung cancer in 2006, at 57.)

Ultimately, of course, everything that belonged to the family of Ceausescu, a onetime apprentice shoemaker from a peasant village, derived from the privileges of power.

The case went through many convolutions over seven years. Valentin argued in court that what had been confiscated from him after his father was overthrown was not state property — never mind if, as the state argued, none of the Ceausescus ever bothered to document properly what was in their possession, as the Ceausescu regime required every Romanian to do.

An eyebrow or two might have been raised when the court then agreed with Valentin, at least among Romanians who could recall how the dictator enriched his homes, his family members and others close to him by seizing art and property from innumerable countrymen.

But the ho-hum response here speaks volumes about this struggling country’s cash-versus-culture climate. With most barely scraping by, Romanians admire private enterprise more than they value some vague notion of shared artistic heritage.

“Since the revolution the country is only about private enterprise,” said Cristian Stanescu, a journalist who covered the trial for the local newspaper, The Guardian. He echoed what others here say: “Romanians sympathize with Valentin because he worked the system to his advantage. Our idea of culture now is making money. We still have too many basic needs to worry about elevated ones like art and the state.”

Alin Ciupala, a thoughtful young historian of Romanian history at Bucharest University, put his countrymen’s indifference to their artistic heritage another way: “In Romania under Ceausescu there didn’t exist, as there did in the Soviet Union or Czechoslovakia, any underground cultural movement. There was no samizdat culture. And so there never was a tradition here of cultural liberalism, of cultural resistance. Intellectuals were opportunistic. The instinct to survive has always been highly developed in this country.

“If Valentin had obtained from the courts big castles, or land, it might have provoked a reaction and reduced public sympathy for him. But paintings and prints, works of art? They don’t mean that much for most Romanians.”

The art the court agreed should be handed over to Mr. Ceausescu is still in storage in the National Art Museum, where it has been since being seized years ago. One estimate put the price tag for the lot of pictures, some 40, at somewhat less than $1 million, but that was only a wild guess.

Goya aside, the best-known artists among the work being returned, Victor Brauner and Theodor Pallady, aren’t exactly big names outside the country. Like Valentin Ceausescu and his wife, but for very different reasons, Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu also amassed works by Romanian artists, in their case pre-modern and Socialist Realist, although for a while, while the Communist leader was courting Richard M. Nixon and Charles de Gaulle during the 1960s, the state officially tolerated modern art for the sake of Western consumption. Briefly Romanian artists had a window onto what was happening in America and Western Europe.

But then, culture having only been a political tool, the window eventually shut. After Ceausescu visited Pyongyang in North Korea, he decided to rebuild his own capital city. The result was to wipe out much of historic Bucharest to make way for grotesque and gigantic building projects that still spoil the city center, and sycophants kept a virtual army of state-approved artists busy painting portraits of Ceausescu and his wife, thousands of them. These ended up in public buildings and in the various homes of the dictator, who loved to receive as birthday gifts pictures of himself showing how much the Romanian people loved him. Ceausescu constructed a whole building to store these portraits.

As it happened, the National Museum of Contemporary Art here had some of them on view the other day. Mihai Oroveanu, the museum’s director, hung them in one gallery — diagonally, to make clear that the show was not actually a tribute.

Big, brightly colored scenes of Communist kitsch, they showed the dictator and his wife smiling before reverent mobs of workers, receiving flowers from ruddy-cheeked female soldiers, and wearing white 1970s leisure suits that, like the peaked winter hat Ceausescu made de rigeur for all loyal apparatchiks, became the height of Romanian fashion once upon a time.

Radu Filipescu, a former dissident imprisoned and beaten under Ceausescu for distributing antigovernment leaflets, recalled Romanian life back then. “The most interesting books I read were in prison,” he said one recent evening, with a laugh. “There was not a lot else to do.” But he was also half-serious.

“Today Romanians are totally consumed by competition and money,” he explained. “It’s easier for them to keep warm memories of the past, when life certainly was not better, but in some ways it was not as difficult. They don’t want to concern themselves with Ceausescu at the moment.”

All of Europe wrestles with the last century, at different speeds. A generation of Spaniards is just getting around to unearthing the graves of Republicans killed under the rule of Francisco Franco, more than three decades after his death; France and Poland still haven’t quite confronted their conflicted roles during World War II. Germany struggles with addressing the legacy of its division, 20 years after the Wall fall.

Here, Ceausescu and his wife aside, few Romanians were prosecuted for what happened during the Ceausescu era. Nobody served more than a few years in jail.

“It is incredible to give back paintings to the son of a dictator,” said Stejarel Olaru. He oversees the government-sponsored Institute for the Investigation of Communist Crimes in Romania. “But people don’t care.”

And so it’s left to Valentin Ceausescu, of all people, to deal with the past. He agreed to meet one afternoon in a nearly empty restaurant outside Bucharest. Nervous and defensive, he stressed that the art his parents had in their homes was borrowed from state-owned museums. The works he fought to recover, the only ones he really cares about, he said, were collected by him and his former wife, a private affair.

“I was defending my name,” he said. “These works were part of my past, my life. Some were gifts from a painter who was a friend.”

If the museum abides by the court order and turns the pictures over, which he said he still doubts, Mr. Ceausescu plans to give most of the works to Iordana, keep two or three for himself, but sell none.

The issue was never profit, said the son of the dead dictator. It was justice.

“I’m not pressed for money,” he wanted to make clear. “The whole point was that there should be a fair trial.”

Romania plans to sell 7.5 bln lei debt in March

BUCHAREST, Feb 25 (Reuters) - Romania plans to sell 7.5 billion lei ($2.23 billion) in governnment debt in March, compared with the roughly 5.9 billion lei it sold in February, central bank data showed on Wednesday.

The European Union member issued 12.5 billion lei in domestic debt in 2008, mostly in short-term paper as yields jumped due to a mounting global cash squeeze.

In March, the ministry plans to issue three-, six-month and one-year treasury bills worth 7 billion lei and 500 million lei in three- and five-year bonds.

Domestic debt plans for 2009 are estimated at around 30 billion lei. The ministry also plans to borrow around 1 billion euros from international markets, either as loans or Eurobond issues.

Bucharest rejects blanket approach for banks

The Financial Times

By Thomas Escritt in Bucharest

Published: February 25 2009 01:53 | Last updated: February 25 2009 01:53

The governor of Romania’s central bank has said a blanket recapitalisation of troubled banking groups is not what his country needs.

Mugur Isarescu also warned of the risks of lumping together countries facing very different circumstances under the heading of emerging European risk.

Romania was the fastest-growing economy in the European Union last year but saw an eight-year boom shudder to a halt late in 2008. Growth of 7.3 per cent last year is expected to turn negative in 2009.

With external debt standing at 12 per cent of gross domestic product last year, most analysts expect Romania to follow Hungary and Ukraine in turning to the International Monetary Fund for support. Emil Boc, the prime minister, has said he expects to reach a decision this month on calling in the IMF.

Asked about the Austrian government’s calls for a region-wide support package, Mr Isarescu told the Financial Times: “When [Austrian finance minister] Josef Pröll visited Bucharest, I told him ... that a global approach of subsidising all the Austrian subsidiaries would not be good for Romania because our banks are already very well capitalised.

“Any capitalisation is welcome, of course, but a global approach would need to address the specific problems here, otherwise you could get confusion.”

Mr Isarescu was speaking after Monday’s announcement by the central banks of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Romania that they were prepared to intervene in currency markets after a week of heavy selling.

But Matei Paun, a partner at the Bucharest-based corporate finance advisers BAC, said such confidence in Romania’s banking system might be complacent.

“There are plenty of banks that have been nationalised in the last six months which were well capitalised. You can be solvent without being liquid,” he said, citing evidence of liquidity problems at Romanian banks.

Petrom says made Q4 net loss of 1.27 billion lei

* Q4 net loss 1.27 bln lei vs expected 131 mln profit

* No dividend for 2008 will be paid

* Q4 turnover up 4 percent to 3.7 billion lei

* Full year net profit 1 billion lei, down 43 percent

BUCHAREST, Feb 25 (Reuters) - Romania's biggest oil and gas group Petrom SNPP.BX posted a fourth-quarter net loss of 1.27 billion lei ($381 million) on Wednesday, due to falling oil prices and a provision for legal claims of employees.

Petrom, majority owned by Austria's OMV (OMVV.VI), was seen posting a net profit of 131 million lei. In the fourth quarter of 2007, Petrom reported a net profit of 230 million lei.

Its turnover rose 4 percent to 3.7 billion lei in the fourth quarter of last year.

The group has been involved in litigation started by former and current employees based on different interpretation of clauses for holiday bonuses, for which it has been provisioning for potential losses.

The fourth-quarter provision stood at 860 million lei, compared with 447 million in the third quarter.

"The fourth quarter was affected by sharp oil price decline and additional provisions booked," the company said in a statement.

Petrom said it plans to cut investment this year to "levels appropriate to the current financing situation and challenging environment." The group will pay no dividend for 2008, to finance investment, the statement said.

The company also said it was in talks with international financial institutions to secure loans for investment projects.

For the full year Petrom recorded a net profit of 1 billion lei, 43 percent lower than a year earlier. (Reporting by Marius Zaharia; Editing by David Holmes)

Romanian forest 'could be voted one of the Seven Wonders of Nature'

www.kms.ee

An ancient European forest is among the contenders for accreditation as one of the world's most amazing spectacles, those looking at the Romanian forestry industry may be interested to discover.

The Retezat National Park in Romania has reached the second phase of voting in New7Wonders New Seven Wonders of Nature contest.

It is competing in the forests, national parks and nature reserves category and the public will determine which of the contenders is named the most amazing site of its type.

The other categories, which may interest those involved in the Romanian forestry industry, are landscapes and ice formations, islands and mountains and volcanoes.

In addition, the most spectacular instances of caves, rock formations and valleys, lakes, rivers and waterfalls and seascapes will be democratically selected in an online vote.

The Retezat National Park's website reveals that there are 1,190 species of plants in its confines, more than a third of those found in Romania.

Of these, 90 are endemic plants which can only be found within the forest.

Romanian Government Considers Accelerating Euro-Adoption Plan

By Irina Savu and Adam Brown

Feb. 25 (Bloomberg) -- Romania’s government may accelerate plans to adopt the euro to more closely link the country’s economy with other members of the European Union, Prime Minister Emil Boc said.

Boc told journalists in Bucharest today that the government aims to decide whether to try to adopt the euro before the current target of 2014. He gave no further details.

Central bank Governor Mugur Isarescu has said the country needs to slow inflation to an annual 3 percent or 4 percent by 2010 to ensure euro adoption in 2014. The annual inflation rate rose to 6.7 percent in January from 6.3 percent in December.

To contact the reporters on this story: Adam Brown in Bucharest at abrown23@bloomberg.net; Irina Savu in Bucharest at isavu@bloomberg.net.

Romania Aims for Foreign Loan, Finance Minister Says

By Irina Savu and Adam Brown

Feb. 25 (Bloomberg) -- Romania’s government will seek loans from abroad to help finance the planned 2009 budget and current- account deficits, Finance Minister Gheorghe Pogea said.

“We will take an external loan,” Pogea said on the sidelines of a seminar in Bucharest today. He gave no further details and didn’t say where the state will seek the loan.

Deputy Finance Minister Bogdan Dragoi said last week that the government plans to finance 30 percent of the planned 2009 gap, or as much as 4 billion euros ($5 billion), from foreign borrowing this year.

Eastern Europe’s governments are facing difficulties financing their budget deficits as investors shun riskier assets. Countries including Hungary, Ukraine and Latvia needed international aid to avert defaults and Romania’s government will decide this month whether to seek financing from the International Monetary Fund or the European Union.

The government aims to narrow the budget deficit to about 2 percent of gross domestic productstate wages. Romania, which had the fastest-growing economy in the EU in the third quarter of last year, predicts a sharp slowdown this year that will lower budget revenue. The IMF said this month that the country probably faces a recession in 2009. this year, from about 5.2 percent last year by freezing

Investment Projects

Transport Minister Radu Berceanu also said today that the government, which plans to devote 20 percent of this year’s spending to investment, aims to create a fund to buy 4 billion euros worth of land for investment projects.

Romania posted a current-account deficit of about 13 percent of GDP last year and it predicts a gap of less than 10 percent this year as a weaker leu discourages imports.

Standard & Poor’s said in a report yesterday that some eastern European nations, including Romania, are “facing despair” because of the global financial crisis and their external debt and current-account deficits.

At the same seminar as Pogea, Prime Minister Emil Boc said the government may accelerate plans to adopt the euro in 2014 to more closely link the country’s economy with other members of the European Union. He gave no further details.

“We should speed up the entry process,” he said.

Central bank Governor Mugur Isarescu has said the country needs to slow inflation to an annual 3 percent or 4 percent by 2010 to ensure euro adoption in 2014. The annual inflation rate rose to 6.7 percent in January from 6.3 percent in December.

To contact the reporter on this story: Adam Brown in Bucharest at abrown23@bloomberg.net

Romania okays penal codes,wants EU scrutiny lifted

BUCHAREST, Feb 25 (Reuters) - Romania's centre-left government approved new judicial codes on Wednesday, hoping to align its criminal and civil proceedings to European standards and end anti-corruption monitoring by Brussels. Earlier this month, the European Commission said Romania had taken "backward steps" in fighting corruption over the last year, urging it to amend the judicial codes and do more to fight corruption ahead of full-year assessments in July.

The replacement for the criminal code, the current version of which dates back to the 1960s, a time of communist repression has been advocated by Brussels and pro-democracy groups in Romania, seen as the bloc's most corrupt state after Bulgaria. Bucharest's new government, which won power in a November election, has pledged to revive the fight against corruption after the previous centrist cabinet let reforms slide following Romania's EU accession in 2007. "This will practically modernise the Romanian judicial system.

It is in line with the EU stance to see these bills finalised and lift monitoring," Prime Minister Emil Boc said. Political observers say the criminal and civil codes are a test of Boc's coalition government's ability to agree on anti-corruption efforts, which may be stymied by divisions between ruling groupings. Boc said the amendments would reduce lengthy trials, reduce trial costs and protect civil rights. (Reporting by Radu Marinas; Editing by Elizabeth Piper)

Eastern European Tinderbox: How Explosive Could It Get?

RGE Analysts' EconoMonitor

The Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) region is the sick man of emerging markets. While the global crisis means few, if any, bright spots worldwide, the situation in the CEE area is particularly bleak. After almost a decade of outpacing worldwide growth, the region looks set to contract in 2009, with almost every country either in or on the verge of recession. The once high-flying Baltics (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) look headed for double-digit contractions, while countries relatively less affected by the crisis (i.e. Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia) will have a hard time posting even positive growth. Meanwhile, Hungary and Latvia’s economies already deteriorated to the point where IMF help was needed late last year.

PM says Romania must raise country's rating

BUCHAREST, Feb. 25 (Xinhua) -- Romania must raise the country's rating in order to bolster the economy in the wake of a 5.2-percent budget deficit in 2008, Prime Minister Emil Boc said Wednesday.

"Because of the budget deficit of the previous year, the financing possibility is low and costs a lot. Everybody is waiting to see very clear and firm measures from a stable government," Bocsaid.

He stressed that the government aims to better finance the economy through raising the nation's rating.

Boc said that last year Romania failed to make good use of its economic growth of 7.8 percent.

"In the year 2008, instead of saving money for more difficult times, we have spent not only everything we had, but the deficit stands at 5.2 percent," he said.

He added that the government must not repeat "the mistakes of the past."

"In the context of the current economic crisis, we have to find the best solutions for Romania," Boc said. "Nobody has the unique solution to the crisis, but I am convinced that, together, we can diminish the effects of the crisis. We can take the best measures Romania can afford at this moment."

Last November, the ratings agency Fitch downgraded its sovereign ratings for Romania to below investment-grade, after an earlier Standard & Poor's downgrade turned Romania into the only European Union member state with a non-investment grade credit rating. Moody's rates Romania's sovereign debt at Baa3.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Romania rejects blanket approach to troubled banks

By Thomas Escritt in Bucharest

Published: February 25 2009 02:00 | Last updated: February 25 2009 02:00

The governor of Romania's central bank has said a blanket recapitalisation of troubled banking groups is not what his country needs.

Mugur Isarescu also warned of the risks of lumping together countries facing very different circumstances under the heading of emerging European risk.

Romania was the fastest-growing economy in the European Union last year but saw an eight-year boom shudder to a halt late in 2008. Growth of 7.3 per cent last year is expected to turn negative in 2009.

With external debt standing at 12 per cent of gross domestic product last year, most analysts expect Romania to follow Hungary and Ukraine in turning to the International Monetary Fund for support. Emil Boc, the prime minister, has said he expects to reach a decision this month on calling in the IMF.

Asked about the Austrian government's calls for a region-wide support package, Mr Isarescu told the Financial Times: "When [Austrian finance minister] Josef Pröll visited Bucharest, I told him . . . that a global approach of subsidising all the Austrian subsidiaries would not be good for Romania because our banks are already very well capitalised.

"Any capitalisation is welcome, of course, but a global approach would need to address the specific problems here, otherwise you could get confusion."

Mr Isarescu was speaking after Monday's announcement by the central banks of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Romania that they were prepared to intervene in currency markets after a week of heavy selling.

But Matei Paun, a partner at the Bucharest-based corporate finance advisers BAC, said such confidence in Romania's banking system might be complacent.

"There are plenty of banks that have been nationalised in the last six months which were well capitalised. You can be solvent without being liquid," he said, citing evidence of liquidity problems at Romanian banks.

www.ft.com/europe

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Ex-communist states mount defence of battered currencies

The Financial Times
By Jan Cienski in Warsaw and Thomas Escritt in Bucharest

Published: February 24 2009 02:00 | Last updated: February 24 2009 02:00

Central Europe's battered currencies rallied yesterday after four central banks issued co-ordinated statements calling recent currency weakness unjustified and raising the possibility of intervention on foreign exchange markets.

It was the first time banks from the region's four excommunist countries with floating currencies had co-ordinated policies, a testament to the seriousness with which falls in Poland's zloty, Hungary's forint, the Czech Republic's koruna and Romania's leu are being treated.

Depreciating currencies are raising fears about the stability of local banks, something that could send shockwaves through countries such as Austria, and Italy, where many parent banks are based.

"In the assessment of the National Bank of Poland, the macroeconomic situation in Poland does not justify the scale of the weakening of the zloty. The NBP may undertake actions aimed at avoiding the unfavourable consequences of currency volatility on the economy," said Slawomir Skrzypek, Poland's central bank governor.

Mugur Isarescu, governor of the National Bank of Romania, told the Financial Times: "We had to calm down the markets, which are nervous, leading to a tendency to exaggerate, which is creating disruptive movements and imbalances."

Mr Isarescu said his institution would be prepared to use a range of instruments to support the leu, including interest rate policy, moral suasion and cutting minimum reserve requirements.

The zloty's uptick in the past few days is also a result of the government's campaign to see Poland admitted into the European exchange rate mechanism by May or June, a necessary precondition for joining the euro. The government is still holding out for Poland to adopt the common currency by 2012, in spite of a lack of enthusiasm from the opposition and Lech Kaczynski, Poland's president. The other three central European countries are less advanced in their quest to join the euro.

By late yesterday in New York the Polish zloty rose 1.9 per cent to 4.6566 zlotys against the euro, the Hungarian forint climbed 2.2 per cent to Ft297.36 and the Czech koruna gained 1.4 per cent to Kc28.43. The leu was little changed. *Latvian president Valdis Zatlers began the search for a new prime minister yesterday amid fears the political turmoil could unravel the Baltic state's €7.5bn International Monetary Fund rescue package and force it to devalue its currency.

If Latvia's fixed exchange rate regime collapsed it would hit European markets and lead to huge losses for the Swedish banks that dominate the Baltic banking sector. Ivars Godmanis, prime minister, resigned on Friday.

Bulgaria, Romania Agree to Speed up Construction of Danube Bridges

Sofia News Agency
24 February 2009, Tuesday

Bulgaria's Transport Minister, Petar Mutafchiev, and his Romanian counterpart, Radu Berceanu, reached an agreement Tuesday to accelerate the construction of the so called Danube Bridge II on Romanian territory, the Bulgarian Transport Ministry announced.

The Ministers met in the Romanian town of Kalafat, which is supposed to be connected with Bulgaria's Vidin over the Danube by what will become the second bridge between the two countries.

The Romanian side has confirmed that it was to select an executer of the construction works on the working infrastructure on its side of the Danube River. The Romanian authorities still need to expropriate certain forest plots in order to allow the Spanish company constructing the bridge, FCC, to complete the construction.

The two sides are also negotiating to set up a joint organization which is going to manage the new bridge, and have agreed that the subcommittee, which is to monitor the construction, and which has been created at the initiative of the European Commission, would meet on March 31 for the first time.

The Transport Ministers of Bulgaria and Romania also agreed to support initiatives for the construction of new bridges connecting the two states over the Danube - at Oryahovo-Beket and at Silistra-Calarasi.

Romania will be in charge of the explorations of the Oryahovo-Beket project, and Bulgaria will be in charge of the Silistra-Calarasi project.

In addition, Bulgaria has agreed that Romania would become the regional coordinator of the TNT project for creating a joint air space block.

Immigrant crime poisons Italy-Romania relations

EurActiv.com
Published: Tuesday 24 February 2009

The Romanian authorities have called on Rome to protect the rights of thousands of honest Romanian immigrant workers, as Italy's government toughened penalties for sex offenders and permitted controversial "neighbourhood citizen patrols," after a spate of rapes blamed mostly on Romanian immigrants.

Background:

Resentment towards Roma in Italy has grown following the establishment of many illegal camps in recent years. Some camps outside Naples have even been torched by locals.

Some 160,000 Roma are estimated to live in Italy, 70,000 of whom are Italian nationals. The rest are immigrants from Eastern Europe, mainly from Romania (roughly 60,000), according to the NGO Opera Nomadi.

Silvio Berlusconi strongly built on resentment against Roma in his election campaign. Only 12 days after his government was formed, the European Commission warned the Italian government not to take "extreme measures" against Roma. The Romanian authorities also voiced concern that resentment against Roma will affect law-abiding Romanians living in Italy.

Berlusconi recently backtracked over a controversial bill that would have made illegal immigration a jailable offence following heavy criticism from the United Nations, the Vatican and within the European Parliament (EurActiv 04/06/08).

According to Italian government data, the number of sexual assaults actually fell last year, but three rapes some ten days ago in Rome, Milan and Bologna triggered a media frenzy that prompted calls for tougher measures.

The law approved by Italy's cabinet on Friday (20 February) sets a mandatory life sentence for deaths resulting from rape, fast-tracks trials for suspected sex offenders caught in the act, removes the option of house arrest and gives free legal assistance to victims.

It also introduces mandatory life sentences for rape of minors. It comes into effect immediately, but must be approved by both houses of parliament within 60 days.

One of the most controversial measures in the decree is to allow citizen street patrols by unarmed and unpaid volunteers.

"This is what was needed. I have to wake up at five in the morning to accompany my daughter to the train station because the streets are not safe," a resident of Guidonia, a town east of Rome with a large immigrant population, told Italian television.

Mayors will be able to approve citizen patrols, with priority given to membership or leadership roles by retired police and military on leave.

The move came after groups of self-styled and unregulated vigilantes began patrolling some towns, alarming law enforcement officials.

Berlusconi under fire by the Vatican

The centre-left opposition criticised the decree as propaganda, while the Vatican, whose views on moral issues carry significant weight in Italy, said the government was "abdicating the rule of law" by introducing the citizen patrols.

"This is not the path to follow," said Monsignor Agostino Marchetto, head of the Vatican department for immigration issues.

The decree also allows authorities to detain immigrants for six months - up from two months - while they work to identify them, process asylum requests and expel those who are not entitled to stay.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi earlier said the number of sexual assaults fell 10 percent last year compared to 2006 and 2007, which he said showed the government's efforts to improve security were working.

But many Italians are unconvinced, with recent rapes grabbing headlines in newspapers and television. The media often play up the role of foreigners as perpetrators.

Some lawmakers have also reopened the debate over whether sex offenders should be chemically castrated.

"There's a rape every 12 hours, every 24 hours, and it's time to end this," another resident of Guidonia - where a group of Romanians last month raped a woman and beat her boyfriend - told Italian television.

Romanian minister goes to Rome

Romanian Foreign Affairs Minister Cristian Diaconescu yesterday (23 February) visted Italy at the invitation of his Italian counterpart, Franco Frattini, the Romanian press reported. Diaconescu declared that he planned to support Italian authorities in countering felonies and in the same time to protect the rights and dignity of all Romanians living in Italy.

The Romanian minister stressed that the recent incidents involving Romanians in Italy were isolated events. He declared that they should be punished by the law, but that other Romanians in Italy should not be victimised.

(EurActiv with Reuters)

Positions:

Romanian MEPs Daciana Sarbu and Corina Cretu (Social Democratic Party, or PSD; from the ruling coalition) protested in an open letter addressed to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni against the new wave of discriminatory accusations made by Italian politicians targeting Romanians living in Italy, the Romanian media reported.

In their letter, the MEPs stress that their nationals are once again the focus of attention in Italy, although the contribution of honest Romanians working in the Italian job market, who amount to "over 1% of Italy's gross domestic product," is not in the public eye.

"In turn, Romanian thieves and rapists have been in the focus of attention lately," MEPs further write, adding: "People talked so much about them that the remainder of Europe might think Romanian is a synonym for 'perpetrator'."

"What frightens us is the insistence with which voices of your political stage continue to present Romania as a source of perpetrations and Romania as a nation made up exclusively of offenders and perpetrators," the letter continues.

It concludes: "If we should punish something, let's punish crimes, not the nationality. The only weapon which we have to use against offences is the law. Thieves, rapists and perpetrators are not Romanians: they are malefactors and have to be punished for the evil they made. They alone should be punished, not an entire nation which consider you friends."

The Romanian Identity Party (PIR) registered in Italy on Saturday (22 February) organised a press event, calling on the Italian media to put an end to a campaign that exaggerates offences by Romanians.

"According to data supplied by the Rome police, the number of rapes in Rome has dropped by 10 percent in 2009, but, when reading the press in the past few days, you get the feeling that it actually went up 100 times," said the PIR's president, lawyer Giancarlo Germani, asking for the introduction of some sort of penalty for Italian journalists who present the issue in a xenophobic way.

PIR National Secretary Mihai Muntean said highlighting the Romanian nationality of offenders encourages a backlash among Italian extremist groups against innocent Romanians, referring to recent attacks on three Romanian stores.

Next steps:

  • 1 March: The issue of resentment against Romanians in Italy is expected to be discussed bilaterally on the occasion of the next EU informal summit.

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