Friday, July 31, 2009

Romania GDP may shrink 2 pct in 2010-finmin official

BUCHAREST, July 31 (Reuters) - The Romanian economy is expected continue to contract by as much as 2 percent next year, compared with the International Monetary Fund's forecast of a sliver of growth, a finance ministry official said.Like most of its neighbours, Romania plunged into recession at the start of the year, as the world crisis slashed demand and lending, forcing it to seek 20 billion euros in IMF-led aid.

A mission of the Washington-based lender is in Bucharest undertaking a first review of Romania's progress in meeting aid conditions, which include a fiscal deficit target of 4.6 percent of GDP in 2009.

Officials have said Bucharest will ask the Fund to allow a bigger deficit, as economic contraction is expected to nearly double this year from the current forecast of 4.1 percent, boosting chances for further shrinkage next year.'Economic contraction in 2010 is inevitable, we will see a plus only in 2011 due to external factors,' Dorin Mantescu, head of the ministry's macroeconomic unit told Business Standard.'The economy will probably contract next year by up to 2 percent.'

On Thursday, Finance Minister Gheorghe Pogea said GDP may shrink by as much as 8 percent this year, compared with the IMF's forecast of a 4.1 percent contraction.Mantescu also said Romania would likely have to raise some taxes to boost revenues, but only after the economy recovers, to prevent further shocks.'On the revenue side, Romania has the lowest collection level in the EU. Nominal taxation rates are among the lowest. Taxes must rise but not now, only when the economy enters an upward path.'

Romania to Ask IMF to Allow Wider Budget Deficit

By Adam Brown
July 30 (Bloomberg) -- Romania’s government said it will ask the International Monetary Fund to allow it to widen its budget deficit limit for 2009 to make up for dwindling revenue.

The Balkan nation, which has agreed to a budget-gap ceiling of 4.6 percent ofgross domestic product this year, is holding talks with the IMF this week and next, Finance Minister Gheorghe Pogea said in a note on the government Web site.“Revenue fell 5.1 percent in the first half compared with a year earlier because of the financial crisis,” Pogea said. “We want to advance the idea of a wider budget deficit at least to make up for the drop in income.”Romania agreed to a 20 billion-euro ($28 billion) loan package led by the Washington-based lender in March to finance its current-account and budget shortfalls.

The IMF agreement target compares with a deficit of 4.8 percent last year.A team from the IMF started a week-long visit to Romania yesterday to discuss the government’s economic plan and review terms of the loan. Pogea didn’t say how much he wants to widen the budget gap.The government has already frozen wages for state workers, raised some taxes and created a new tax on many service providers, including restaurants and hairdressers.Pogea also said that the government registered a budget deficit of 2.7 percent of GDP in the first half, on target with the IMF’s plan.

In the first quarter, Romania’s economy shrank an annual 6.2 percent after growing 7.1 percent last year, the fastest pace in the European Union. The IMF predicts the economy will contract more than an annual 4.1 percent this year.

To contact the reporter on this story: Adam Brown in Bucharest atabrown23@bloomberg.net

Romania President Suggests Final Break With Voronin

www.rferl.org

BUCHAREST -- Romanian President Traian Basescu has said that Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin can no longer count on his support, RFE/RL's Moldovan Service reports.

Basescu was speaking on Romanian state radio soon after the results of the July 29 elections in neighboring Moldova suggested that Voronin's long-ruling Communists had lost their majority in parliament to a pro-European assortment of challengers.

As those parties scrambled to try and form a governing coalition, it was apparent that while they might constitute a majority they would not control the 61 legislative seats required to elect a president.

"Voronin might remember that I helped him form a majority after elections in the past," Basescu said, "but this time Voronin will not have my support to build a majority in parliament and elect [Moldova's] president."

Basescu did not explain how he "helped" Voronin, who has been in power since 2001.

Relations between the two leaders became tense after Basescu wished Moldova's opposition parties success in the parliamentary elections and promised fast-track citizenship for hundreds of thousands of Moldovans who are of Romanian descent.

Voronin has repeatedly accused Romania of fomenting unrest in his country and of planning to "absorb" it.

Most of Moldova was part of Romania until World War II.

Romania to ask IMF to allow up to 7 pct deficit

By Radu Marinas

BUCHAREST, July 30 (Reuters) - Romania will ask the International Monetary Fund to allow it a higher budget deficit of up to 7 percent of gross domestic produce this year, hoping to follow Hungary in securing easier terms for an aid package.

A senior government official close to talks with the Fund, which started on Wednesday, told Reuters flexibility from the lender was needed because of dwindling state revenues as the Romanian economy plunges deeper into recession.

If successful, Romania would retread the path of fellow European Union member Hungary which has won a Fund reprieve in budget plans, as it struggles to keep a 20 billion euro aid package, led by the IMF, on track.

The Washington-based lender has began a first review of Romania's progress in meeting aid conditions, which include a fiscal deficit target of 4.6 percent of GDP in 2009.

"The negotiating mandate given by the cabinet is a 4.6-7 percent range for the deficit to be raised in IMF talks," the official told Reuters.

Romania's problems are emblematic of wider woes in the region, where shrinking economies have put pressure on budget plans, pushing many above the EU's three-percent limit.

In May, under a similar agreement with the IMF and the EU, Hungary was allowed to hike its deficit ceiling to 3.9 percent of GDP from a previous 2.9 percent target.

Crisis-hit Latvia has been given the nod from the IMF to run a deficit of as much as 10 percent of GDP.

Observers warn skyrocketing deficits raise concerns about fiscal restrain in eastern Europe in the longer term, with many capitals struggling to rein in spending now and, possibly, even when their economies emerge from recession.

PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION

In Romania, a presidential election to be held in late 2009 poses problems for cutbacks.
The election pits politicians from the two ruling parties against each other as main contenders, making it difficult for the government to agree on policies and reforms.

"Seven percent is a big deficit," said Ionut Dumitru of Raiffeisen Bank in Bucharest.
"From the perspective of euro adoption, high deficits (in the region) would be hard to adjust in the coming years."

Mirroring Hungary, facing the worst downturn in two decades as a fall in demand in western Europe has cut jobs and incomes, Romania enforced drastic cuts to meet IMF requirements.
But first-quarter growth data showing a worse than expected contraction at 6.2 percent have prompted officials to say that Romania needs increased funding to finance infrastructure investment and fight financial woes more resolutely.

Analysts said IMF acceptance of a 7 percent deficit would have a harsh knock-on effect in Romania.

"If the IMF accepts such a gap (7 percent), such an agreement will be certainly accompanied by drastic spending adjustment such as an axing of jobs in the public sector," said Rozalia Pal of UniCredit Tiriac Bank in Bucharest.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Extremist Hungarian Guard resurfaces in Romania

July 29, 2009BUDAPEST (JTA) -- Banned by a court in Hungary, the extreme-right Hungarian Guard has resurfaced in neighboring Romania.

A chorus of demands is being raised throughout Hungary for a second court ruling to ban the extreme nationalist political party Jobbik, the paymaster of the Guard, along with its paramilitary prodigy.

The Guard will be heavily represented at a summer camp organized by the Hungarian Youth of Transylvania, or EMF, movement, attracting some 10,000 participants. The venue is Judetul Harghita in Romania, traditionally populated by Jews, Gypsies and Hungarians as well as Romanians.

EMF already has tried to form an organization modeled on the Hungarian Guard.One dominant theme at the camp will be the restoration of Hungarian autonomy in the region, lost after World War I. The guests of honor will include Gabor Vona, leader of the Jobbik Party.

In Hungary, the Guard was disbanded last month and the banning order upheld by an appeals court. Many widely respected Hungarians are now calling for the disbanding of Jobbik, which formed the Hungarian Guard in 2007, as a threat to the rule of law.

Perhaps the most influential among them is Peter Barandy, an eminent criminologist and former Liberal minister of justice. In an interview published by the daily Nepszabadsa newspaper, Barandy argues in favor of banning the party in defense of the fledgling Hungarian democratic system.

Romanians Could Grant Basescu a New Term

(Angus Reid Global Monitor) - Romanian president Traian Basescu could secure his re-election in a ballot later this year, according to a poll by Gallup Romania. 35 per cent of respondents would vote for Basescu in the upcoming election.Crin Antonescu of the National Liberal Party (PNL) is second with 20 per cent, followed by Mircea Geoana of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) with 18 per cent, Prince Radu Duda with 12 per cent, Corneliu Vadim Tudor of the Party of Great Romania (PRM) with 10 per cent, and Kelemen Hunor of the Hungarian Democratic Alliance of Romania (UDMR) with three per cent.

Romania held a legislative election in November 2008. Final results gave the coalition of the PSD and the Conservative Party (PC) 33.09 per cent of the vote and 114 seats in the lower house, followed by the Democratic Liberal Party (PD-L) with 32.36 per cent and 115 mandates. Basescu nominated PD-L leader Emil Boc to take over as prime minister from Calin Popescu Tariceanu.

On Jul. 26, Sorin Oprescu, the mayor of Romania’s capital city Bucharest, suggested that he may run for the presidency, declaring, "I am not ruling it out, but it doesn’t mean I’ve made a decision. I need more time, for it’s a very important decision."Romania must hold a presidential election by the end of November 2009. If no candidate garners more than 50 per cent of the vote in the first round, a run-off between the top two vote-getters must take place within 14 days.

Polling Data: Which candidate would you vote for in Romania’s presidential election?

Traian Basescu

35%

Crin Antonescu (PNL)

20%

Mircea Geoana (PSD)

18%

Prince Radu Duda

12%

Corneliu Vadim Tudor (PRM)

10%

Kelemen Hunor (UDMR)

3%

Source: Gallup Romania
Methodology: Face-to-face interviews with 1,108 Romanian adults, conducted from Jul. 16 to Jul. 20, 2009. Margin of error is 2.9 per cent.

Romanian govt tensions rise as IMF mission arrives

By Justyna Pawlak

BUCHAREST, July 29 (Reuters) - Romania's ruling coalition shows signs of a rift over public spending as the latest of eastern Europe's crisis-hit states to face a review of economic reforms needed to keep its 20 billion euro IMF-lifeline flowing.

Starting on Wednesday, the IMF will spend two weeks checking Bucharest's progress on shoring up its bloated finances and reforming the public sector, key conditions for aid secured in March to prevent a financing crisis.

Hit by a severe credit crunch and an outflow of investment since the crisis started last year, Romania joined fellow crisis-stricken EU members Latvia and Hungary in grabbing emergency loan packages from the EU and IMF.

The Fund has said so far that Romania's performance was on track, but observers warn further divisions within the seven-month-old centre-left coalition could threaten its ability to meet IMF conditions and secure payments.'There are risks. Not necessarily at this (IMF) mission, but for the next ones,' said Nicolaie Alexandru-Chidesciuc, chief economist at ING Bank in Bucharest. 'This uncertain situation in the coalition may end up in delays of (aid) disbursement.'

Bucharest's governing groupings, the Democrat-Liberals (PD-L) of Prime Minister Emil Boc and the Social Democrat Party (PSD), formed an uneasy coalition last year in a bid to rescue the economy hit hard by global crisis.

But signs of disagreements intensified in recent weeks as both groups jostle for position ahead of a presidential election due late this year which will pit PSD head Mircea Geoana against President Traian Basescu who has close links with the PD-L.

ELECTION LOOMS

Earlier this week, the PSD teamed with the Liberal opposition to demand a parliamentary inquiry into allegations of mismanagement of public funds by the PD-L's tourism minister.

The leftists have also demanded their ruling partners explain how IMF cash is being used to help the economy, prompting the prime minister to accuse them of undermining the governing partnership and delaying public finance reforms.'Slowly but surely our partners have made other priorities. They prefer to run an election campaign,' Boc said this week.

Both parties and their seniors have a history of conflict, with Geoana and Basescu often trading accusations of obstructing reforms in the former communist state, making a slow transition into a market economy.To ensure IMF aid continues, they will have to introduce sweeping fiscal reforms, including spending cuts and pay transparency.

This is particularly difficult for the PSD, which draws much of its support from powerful public sector trade unions.Without aid, Romania could face a financing crisis, if investor sentiment is damaged and its public deficit spirals out of control amid deepening recession.One of the issues Romania is likely to discuss with the IMF is the current budget target.

Several coalition officials have said Bucharest may ask for a raise in the goal, now at 4.6 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), because deepening recession is diminishing tax revenues to the budget.

IMF and EU bailouts have stabilised their beneficiaries to varying degrees -- Latvia is seen as shaky, while Hungary has returned to international markets -- but analysts say the crisis is far from over.Other countries in the region that economists say may opt for bailouts include Bulgaria and non-EU member Croatia. Other non-members, including Serbia, Ukraine, Bosnia, and Belarus have all secured deals.

Romania govt to unveil 2010 budget draft by Sept

BUCHAREST, July 29 (Reuters) - Romania's center-left government plans to draft the 2010 budget bill by Sept. 1, Prime Minister Emil Boc said on Wednesday.

Romania, which has secured 20 billion euros in International Monetary Fund-led loans, has agreed to a budget shortfall ceiling of 4.6 percent of gross domestic product for 2009, but ruling coalition officials have said the country will ask the Fund to allow it run a higher gap.

Starting on Wednesday, the IMF will spend two weeks checking Bucharest's progress on shoring up its bloated finances and reforming the public sector, key conditions for aid secured in March to prevent a financing crisis.In order to ensure IMF aid continues, Boc's cabinet will have to introduce sweeping fiscal reforms, including spending cuts and pay transparency.

Without aid, Romania could face a financing crisis if investor sentiment is damaged and its public deficit spirals out of control amid a deepening recession.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Chinese company reaches $410 mln rolling mill deal with Romanian INTFOR

ZHENGZHOU, July 29 (Xinhua) -- Zhengzhou Top Rolling Technology Co., Ltd. in central China's Henan Province has reached a 410-million-U.S.dollar rolling mill deal with Romania's INTFOR company, the Chinese company said Wednesday.

The deal came after INTFOR, a leading metallurgical company in Romania, purchased a steel-rolling production line worth 8 million U.S. dollars from Zhengzhou Top in 2007, said Zhao Linzhen, manager of the company.

The production line arrived in Romania last December and was put into production in May. The Romanian authorities have expressed satisfaction over the deal.

The new contract involved more than 10 million dollars in retrofitting an old steel-rolling production line and the complete equipment for a new steel-rolling production line worth more than 400 million dollars.

Zhengzhou Top, established in 1995, is a high-technology private enterprise which researches and produces rolling mills and relative equipment. The company has gained more than 21 patents in 62 countries and regions in the world.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Now Romania linked with future F1 bid

By Motorsport.com

Romania is the latest country to be connected with a possible addition to the Formula One calendar of the near future.

Hot on the heels of central European neighbour Bulgaria's attempts to win a round of the world championship, it has emerged that Romania has launched a project for a world-class racing circuit.According to the French language Le 10 Sport, the project was launched this week in the Romanian capital Bucharest, and was said to boast the involvement of 1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve in the area of the circuit layout."It is a project for the creation of a permanent circuit with multiple uses for the purpose of tourism and international competitions, and in the long term the ability to organise Formula One," said Jacques Samalens, owner of the company Ramses Project Romania.

The French language Canadian source RDS said Villeneuve cancelled his attendance at the launch at the last minute, but may also be involved financially.It is said that three possible sites for the track have been identified between 25 and 70km from Bucharest.

AP: Romanian Parliament lifts immunity of ex-minister

BUCHAREST, Romania - Romania's parliament has stripped immunity from the country's former sports and youth minister so prosecutors can investigate allegations that she overspent public money organizing concerts.

Monica Iacob Ridzi resigned earlier this month over accusations she spent an estimated euro600,000 ($839,000) on concerts for young people in May. Nobody has accused her of pocketing any money, and Ridzi said she was innocent.

Accusations center on inflated prices paid for goods and services at the concerts. Ridzi is also accused of trying to delete allegedly incriminating e-mails in the case. The lower chamber of Parliament approved the move late Monday.Ridzi said negative press coverage was politically motivated to harm her Democratic Liberal Party, which is supported by President Traian Basescu.

Romania holds presidential elections later this year and Basescu is expected to run again.Also late Monday, parliament voted to investigate allegations that Tourism Minister Elena Udrea, another Democratic Liberal minister, overspent ministry funds on advertising and public events.Udrea denied accusations, which she called political.The centrist Democratic Liberal party governs with the leftist Social Democracy Party in Romania's ruling coalition, but the two parties are often at odds.

Doctors at center of Romanian egg-donor case lose appeal for release

www.haaretz.com
BUCHAREST - The court of appeals in Bucharest denied bail for the 30-day arrest or Dr. Harry Mironescu, his son, Yair Miron, and their assistant, Cecilia Borza over alleged misconduct at a fertility clinic the doctors owned. The three have been charged with association in an organized crime group, and were brought into court handcuffed.

The Israeli doctors and the young Romamian woman were not allowed to talk to anyone other than their lawyers, for a brief moment, before the proceedings started in their case.

The three were arrested - along with 24 others, some Israeli - in connection with the Sabyc fertility clinic, where they allegedly illegally paid egg donors.

The three's lawyers pleaded for more than 45 minutes in the case, bringing various arguments to support a decision to release their clients. One lawyer quoted various European laws and decisions of the European Court for Human Rights as precedent, while another, a long-time friend of Mironescu, told a long story about how the doctor started studying in-vitro fertilization after he was on the brink of divorce, because they couldn't have children.

His son, Miron, was adopted - the lawyer disclosed.

The chairman of the Court of three judges was visibly patient with the famous lawyers in the case.

Cameras were barred from the proceedings, but the courtroom was filled with journalists.

At one point the prosecutor nearly broke procedure by alluding to new charges against the defendants, which is normally not allowed in an appeal restricted to procedural issues.

Though the prosecutor claimed that poor women were solicited to donate ovules for money, Mironescu's lawyers argued that it was not relevant, as the donor's list also included "show-biz starlets", and more educated and richer women.

The lawyer wouldn't disclose any of these alleged public figures in the ad-hoc press conference held by the lawyers immediately after the hearing.

All three defendants refused to make any statement in front of the judges at the beginning of the hearing, but asked to be released at the end of the proceedings.

One lawyer, Titus Spanu, said he will try "other methods" to set his clients free, though admitted that the Court's decision cannot be questioned now.

Mironescu, who according to them has suffered a heart failure and was defibrillated with electric shocks at an unspecified moment in the past, is trying to get released for medical reasons.

Romania to ask IMF for more leniency on budget gap

By Radu Marinas

BUCHAREST, July 27 (Reuters) - Romania will ask the International Monetary Fund to allow it to raise its budget deficit goal this year, and thus prevent the need for further austerity measures that could stifle the struggling emerging economy.

Mirroring Hungary, now facing the worst downturn in two decades as a collapse in demand in western Europe cuts jobs and incomes, the new EU member enforced drastic cuts as part of a 20-billion-euro foreign aid package it secured in March.

But first-quarter growth data showing a worse than expected contraction at 6.2 percent, have prompted officials to say that Romania needs increased funding to finance infrastructure investment and fight the world financial woes more resolutely.

A senior official told Reuters his centre-left cabinet would try to persuade the Fund during the first review of the IMF-led loan from July 29 to Aug. 10, to accept a target of 5-5.5 percent of gross domestic product against 4.6 percent.

In May, under a similar agreement with the IMF and the European Union, Hungary was allowed to hike its deficit ceiling to 3.9 percent of GDP from a previous 2.9 percent target.

So far, the deficit figure envisaged is bigger than 5 percent. It could range from 5 to 5.5 percent of GDP,' a senior government official told Reuters.

The official said a cabinet decision on the final level has yet to be taken: 'A lot will depend on the level of budget revenues for July and these figures are due in early August.'

PROJECTS
Romania needs the increased funding to fund badly-needed road, rail and energy projects, the official added, echoing comments made earlier in July by government officials.'There's a need for a higher gap due mainly because of worse than expected contraction for the first quarter and expectations of further contraction in the second quarter,' the official said.

The IMF declined to comment, but bank analysts said Romania's argument looks sound, given that the rise in the deficit is due to a deeper-than-expected recession and not lack of fiscal discipline. They said forcing further cuts in spending at this stage might only drive the economy deeper into crisis.'It was expected that the government would ask for a wider gap ... Figures seem realistic as there have been no chances to attain the current target given economic recession,' said Rozalia Pal of UniCredit Tiriac Bank in Bucharest.'I do not expect any tax hikes ... a certain flexibility is to be expected from the Fund ... it seems that the IMF will show some openess as in the case of Hungary's (deficit).'

Banca Transilvania Shares Jump on Greek Bank Takeover Report

By Irina SavuJuly 27 (Bloomberg) -- Banca Transilvania SA, Romania’s second-largest publicly traded bank, surged the most in more than three months on speculation National Bank of Greece SA may buy control of the lender.

Banca Transilvania’s shares jumped 13.6 percent, the most since April 16, to 1.5 lei in Bucharest trading as of 1:07 p.m. The shares are at their highest level since Sept. 12, giving the company a market value of 1.6 billion lei ($542.6 million).

National Bank may purchase the Romanian lender after it raised 1.25 billion euros ($1.8 billion) in a sale of new stock to existing shareholders to boost capital and finance expansion, Ziarul Financiar reported today, without saying where it got the information.To contact the reporter on this story: Irina Savu in Bucharestisavu@bloomberg.net.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Oltchim eyes 62 mln eur loan to buy Petrom assets

BUCHAREST, July 27 (Reuters) - Romanian chemical plant Oltchim (OLTC.BX) said on Monday it has approved plans to borrow 62 million euros ($88 million) to buy petrochemical assets owned by top oil and gas group Petrom (SNPP.BX).

"We approved contracting ... a loan worth 62 million euros with a 6-year maturity, which will be used to buy the petrochemical assets of Petrom's Arpechim Pitesti (refinery) ... and for working capital," Oltchim said in a statement.

About 80 percent of the loan, which was approved in a general shareholders meeting on Friday, will be guaranteed by the state-owned bank Eximbank.Oltchim works only at a third of its capacity since Petrom, majority owned by Austria's OMV (OMVV.VI), halted petrochemicals production. [ID:nLD225270] ($1=.7043 Euro) (Editing by Simon Jessop)

Romania Receives First C-27J

www.ainonline.com
By: Dave Donald
July 24, 2009

The Romanian air force took delivery of its first Alenia C-27J Spartan at Bucharest-Otopeni air base. Seven Spartans are on order to replace the last of Romania’s Communist-era transports and to bolster the transport fleet’s ability to support international operations.

The last aircraft is due in 2012. Romania initially chose the C-27J over the EADS-CASA C.295M in November 2006, but negotiations with Alenia were suspended three months later, following a complaint by EADS-CASA.

The latter argued that their bid was lower, in a competition that specified cost to be the main criterion for selection. Romania’s public procurement controlling authority upheld the complaint, but it was subsequently overturned by the court of appeals, eventually leading to a €217 million ($308 million) contract signature in December 2007.

However, the deal remained a source of controversy, with several parties alleging that Alenia had misrepresented its costs, and that the technical requirements had been drawn up to favor the C-27J.Romania’s transport fleet is operated by the 90th Air Base at Otopeni, from where the C-27Js will be operated by the 902nd Transport and Reconnaissance Squadron. Currently, the 902nd squadron has four Antonov An-26s on strength, which are becoming increasingly difficult and costly to maintain.

The last of the squadron’s An-24s were retired in 2007. The unit also operates Romania’s sole An-30 “Clank” Open Skies photo-survey platform.

Whether this aircraft will remain in service has not been announced. The Spartans will operate alongside the 901st squadron’s single Lockheed Martin C-130H and four C-130Bs, which are to be upgraded.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Romanian president wants legislator prosecuted

(AP)
BUCHAREST, Romania — President Traian Basescu urged a Romanian legislator on Thursday to surrender his parliamentary immunity so he can be prosecuted on corruption charges.

The European Commission said Wednesday that Romania is not doing enough to fix its flawed justice system. It also said the parliament shows little commitment to pursue the fight against high-level corruption.

On Thursday, Basescu told reporters that legislator Adrian Nastase, who served as Romania's prime minister from 2000 to 2004, is damaging the credibility of the country and its parliament by refusing to face a trial.There was no immediate reaction from Nastase. In the past, he has said charges against him were politically motivated.

Nastase faces charges in two separate corruption cases.In one, prosecutors allege that companies and state agencies were forced to pay fees to attend a conference, and the money was then used to pay for Nastase's unsuccessful run for the presidency in 2004.

Parliament lifted his immunity in that case, and a trial began in February. But it was indefinitely adjourned for technical reasons.In June, Parliament refused in to lift Nastase's immunity in the second case about alleged corruption in a real estate deal.

In Romania, legislators have parliamentary immunity from being tried while serving in Parliament. It can only be lifted if a lawmaker surrenders his immunity, or Parliament votes to withdraw it.

Romania also has other politicians suspected of corruption who have managed to avoid trial.

Romania Bans Marriage Equality

by Kilian Melloy
EDGE Staff Reporter
Thursday Jul 23, 2009


The formerly communist country Romania is so riddled with corruption and organized crime that it was the subject of a recent European Union that included 16 directives to the country to help it reform; according to a July 22 New York Times article, the report found that, "... the positive results of concrete reform efforts at technical level remain fragmented, reforms have not yet taken firmly root, and shortcomings persist."

Moreover, the government had not succeeded in addressing widespread corruption; the report found it "...striking that virtually none of the cases of highest public interest have yet reached a decision."

But lawmakers in Romanian have found one quick and easy political sop: the government there has banned marriage equality for its gay and lesbian families.

Romania suffered terribly under dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu, whose legacy includes a large number of AIDS orphans in that country.

The Romanian government has been beset by corruption since then; now, gay and lesbian families find themselves further marginalized in a country that skeptics did not think was ready or suited for membership in European Union when it joined two and a half years ago.

The limitation on the rights and freedoms of gay and lesbian families in the former communist dictatorship is reportedly due in part to the work of an American religious organization.

The anti-gay Christian legal organization Alliance Defense Fund boasted of the new anti-family measure at its Web site, where a July 20 article claimed that the group and an "allied attorney provided instrumental legal counsel to Romanian Parliament."

The posting carried a quote from a Europe-based member of ADF’s legal counsel.

Said Roger Kiska, "Marriage is not just any two people in a committed relationship. There’s more to a marriage than that."

Kiska hailed the anti-family legislation as providing "valuable new protections," and said, "We especially appreciate the work done by our allies working hard on the ground in Romania on behalf of the Romanian people, who want marriage protected."

Added Kiska, "Romania is one country where American judicial activists will find no support."

Currently, seven nations worldwide offer gay and lesbian citizens family equality, allowing them to marry their life partners.

In the United States, only a handful of states allow the same recognition to gay and lesbian families, but no federal recognition is allowed due to the 1996 "Defense of Marriage Act," which bars marriage protections for any but mixed-gender couples.

A lawyer affiliated with the group, Peter Costea, was also quoted.

Said Costea, "At this time in history, we should be strengthening marriage, not tearing it down."

Added Costea, "Government officials take notice when the people make their will known. That’s what happened in Romania."

In other areas, Romania has made progress in terms of legal equality for its GLBT citizens, including the decriminalization of consensual same-sex intimacy, the equalization of age-of-consent laws, and the enactment federal laws addressing anti-gay bias crimes.

In that last regard, Romania has outstripped the U.S., which as yet offers no federal protections for its GLBT citizens.

In another area as well, military service by gays and lesbians, Romanian law has progressed beyond that in America, where gay troops may only serve as long as they keep silent about their true sexuality.

However, some stigma against gays does linger. Besides the new anti-family law, a challenge to the right of gays and lesbians to assemble for the GayFest parade, which takes place every year in Bucharest, was defeated only last year; the parade still faces sometimes violent opposition from far-right political groups.

Moreover, the nation’s gay and lesbian citizens face opprobrium from their own countrymen, especially outside of urban areas.


Kilian Melloy reviews media, conducts interviews, and writes commentary for EDGEBoston, where he also serves as Assistant Arts Editor.

Romania's last contingent in Iraq returns home

BUCHAREST, July 23 (Xinhua) -- The last 17 Romanian troops participating in the Iraqi Sunset returned home on Thursday, ending a six-year period of missions there.

The Romanian troops arrived with a Hercules C 130 on the international airport of Craiova, southern Romania, where a military ceremony was held.

Romania has been a participant since July 2003 in the operations of Iraq, both under the Multinational Force (MNF-I) and under the NATO mission of training the Iraqi security forces (NTM-I). Romania's contingent in Iraq numbered, at its peak, approximately 730 personnel, operating in three different zones --South-East, South Central and capital Baghdad.

The Romanians conducted a wide range of missions including prisoner interrogation at Camp Cropper and Camp Bucca in Baghdad, reconnaissance and surveillance missions in the Polish Sector and training, peacekeeping and base protection missions in the British Sector.

Three Romanian soldiers died during the mission and more than 10 were wounded.

The Romanian troops' presence in Iraq became a contentious issue in domestic politics. Since 2006, the then Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu called for many time for their earlier return home, while President Traian Basescu, commander in chief of the armed forces, insisted that they would not be withdrawn.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

EU Report Finds Bulgaria and Romania Beset With Problems

July 23, 2009
The New York Times
By STEPHEN CASTLE

BRUSSELS — Thirty months after joining the European Union, Bulgaria and Romania are still plagued by widespread fraud, corruption and organized crime, according to a report published Wednesday that also questions the will of political leaders to deliver the necessary reforms.

The hard-hitting judgment from the European Commission listed an array of deficiencies, citing inadequate measures to fight money-laundering, vote-buying, fraud and killings linked to organized crime.

The report said Bulgaria had made some progress in restructuring its criminal prosecution service and recording more convictions over all. It suggests that in other respects, however, not much has improved since 2008 when the commission issued its last stern warning.

The slow pace of change in Bulgaria and the lack of convictions in high-profile corruption cases have served as a potent example of the problems of bringing fragile ex-Communist nations into the European mainstream.“The capacity of enforcement authorities to deal with high-level corruption,” the report said, “has not increased on a general scale over the last 12 months.”Romania fared slightly better in the report, though it was told that its reform efforts remain “fragmented.”With Croatia in talks to join the E.U., and several other nations in Southern and Eastern Europe also hoping to do so, the report may reinforce growing skepticism in some European capitals about the wisdom of further expansion.“The bad news, and the slowdown in terms of reform in Romania and Bulgaria, can only weaken the case for further enlargement of the E.U.,” said Nicu Popescu, research fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

However, he added that both countries would have been in worse shape had they not been admitted to the E.U. in 2007, and are nevertheless much more successful than other nations in the region like Moldova or Ukraine.“In fact enlargement has been a success because, though they are perceived to be bad by E.U. standards, Romania and Bulgaria are hugely successful by Eastern European standards,” Mr. Popescu added.

In a statement, the president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, underlined the need for greater political commitment to the task of rooting out corruption.“Citizens in both countries and across the rest of Europe must feel that no one is above the law,” he said.Following publication of the report Bulgaria was given 21 recommended tasks to carry out, while Romania given 16.

A special monitoring system for both countries, set up when the two countries joined the E.U. because of concerns that they weren’t ready, is to be extended into 2010.So serious are the problems in Bulgaria that the European Commission continues to freeze around €500 million, or $710 million, from a pool of subsidy money that was intended to help Bulgaria make the necessary economic and management reforms.

The commission had previously decided to withhold payment of more than €290 million because of Bulgaria’s lack of progress. Around €115 million that were frozen last year have been released.The report on Wednesday contains an implicit threat that further E.U. subsidy payments will be held up if corrective action is not taken.There was no direct mention of the two countries’ ambitions to join the Schengen zone, Europe’s passport-free travel zone, though the tone of the documents released Wednesday suggest that is not a likely prospect in the near future.For Bulgaria, the report comes at a time of political transition as a newly elected center-right government prepares to take power.

It faces pressure to deliver visible examples of progress in order to get funds released.The party of the new Bulgarian prime minister, Boiko Borisov, responded to the report by reiterating a pledge to step up the fight against corruption.“To soften Brussels’s tone, it is important to demonstrate political will from day one in office of the new government,” said Tsvetan Tsvetanov, the chairman of Mr. Borisov’s party, GERB, according to Reuters.

The Romanian justice minister, Catalin Predoiu, called for a political consensus that would enable the judicial system to function efficiently and the courts to take fast decisions.“With or without a monitoring mechanism, Romania will remain committed to pursuing judicial reforms because such reforms are, first of all, in the interest of its citizens,” Mr. Predoiu said.

Both governments know it will be hard to win over critics. Though new procedures in Bulgaria have led to the imprisonment of some members of organized crime groups, “killings linked with organized crime continue and known criminals are not apprehended,” the report said.“There is a need for clear evidence that the authorities and the political class are unequivocally committed to eradicating the root-causes of the problem,” it added.The document highlighted “piecemeal” efforts against corruption and “unreasonable” delays in judicial proceedings.

In financial investigations, it said, “too few assets are frozen and too late.”The document also cited reports of vote-buying during European and national elections in July.As for Romania, the report said that permanent political infighting is hindering reform efforts.“Against this background the positive results of concrete reform efforts at technical level remain fragmented, reforms have not yet taken firmly root and shortcomings persist.”Romania’s record on combating corruption was questioned. “It is striking,” the report said, “that virtually none of the cases of highest public interest have yet reached a decision.”

Romania mayor apologizes for Nazi uniform

By ALISON MUTLER
The Associated Press
Thursday, July 23, 2009

BUCHAREST, Romania — A Romanian mayor has apologized for dressing up in a Nazi uniform with a swastika insignia, saying in an open letter Thursday that he is not a fascist or anti-Semite. Constanta mayor Radu Mazare expressed his regret to people who were offended by his dressing up as a Nazi officer at a fashion parade late Sunday at a Black Sea resort.

He said the uniform was a reference to the film "Valkyrie," in which Tom Cruise plays Col. Claus Graf Schenk von Stauffenberg, the aristocratic army officer who was among those executed after a failed attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler in July 1944.

Mazare's gesture attracted criticism in Romania and abroad.A Romanian anti-discrimination group called on the general prosecutor's office to investigate. In Romania it is illegal to display swastikas and conviction can bring a three-year prison sentence.The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Israel called on Mazare to apologize and resign.Efraim Zuroff, the center's director, "expressed a sense of insult and outrage at the poor judgment Mazare exhibited.""It would hard to adequately describe the depth of the pain that your appearance caused, not only to Jews and other victims of Nazism, but to any person of moral integrity who knows the history of World War II," the center said.

Mazare, 41, initially said that he had not seen the tiny swastika on his belt and downplayed his actions."I want to present my apologies to all those who were upset or offended by my appearance ... I said then that I do not share the Nazi ideology, on the contrary I appreciate those who wanted to assassinate the mad dictator," he said in his letter."I do not share or espouse nationalist, fascist or anti-Semitic ideas."

He said he had been to Israel three times, and also visited the Dachau concentration camp to understand what the Jews suffered.Romania denied participating in the Holocaust until 2004, when it accepted the findings of an international commission that Romanian authorities killed up to 380,000 Jews during World War II in territories under their control.

Romanian ex-footballer tries to clear reputation

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Former Romanian footballer Gheorghe 'Gica' Popescu said Wednesday he will try to clear his reputation, after allegations that he was a spy for the Securitate secret police were dismissed by the council that holds communist-era files.

The Council for the Study of the Securitate Archives said Tuesday there is no evidence in the files that Popescu did anything in the communist era that violated human rights. The council cleared him of collaborating with the feared Securitate."The accusations damaged my reputation," Popescu said. "Newspapers abroad published stories that I was a spy. I cannot allow people to believe that the former Barcelona captain was a spy."Popescu, who played for Barcelona between 1995-97, said he will organize a news conference in the Spanish city next week, to present his position and try to clear his name.

The former footballer threatened to sue the two newspapers that accused him of collaboration with the Securitate."The only way to get justice is in court", he said."You've accused me, you've condemned me and you shot me," Popescu told journalists. "I have made mistakes (...) but please do not accuse me of something I have not done. I did not collaborate with the Securitate."

Popescu said the accusations made him more upset than the national team's defeat against Sweden in the 1994 World Cup quarterfinals."It is hard and frustrating to prove something is not true," he said.

Last month, two newspapers alleged that notes in his file showed that Popescu was a Securitate informer. The secret police of late dictator Nicolae Ceausescu had an estimated 750,000 informants in a country of 23 million.Popescu, 41, denied allegations but later conceded he signed a document promising to "defend the national interests" during the communist era and wrote four notes providing information about teammates.

He now says he does not remember signing the notes, although they appear under his name.Popescu said his file is largely made up of reports written by two Securitate agents who were keeping an eye on the footballers when they went abroad. He said the handwriting of one of the agents is similar to his, and implied that the agent could have written the notes and signed them in his name.

Popescu also played for Tottenham, PSV Eindhoven and Galatasaray and was the Romanian footballer of the year six times. He played 115 games for Romania, scoring 16 goals, before retiring in 2003.

Romania 'will miss budget deficit target'

Romania's budget deficit is set to be almost 2.5 per cent higher than the target agreed with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), it has been revealed.

Speaking to Reuters, economy minister Adriean Videanu predicted that the consolidated budget deficit could reach seven per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) by the end of this year.

The country had agreed that the gap would be kept down to 4.6 per cent of GDP at most.

Mr Videanu added that the government would now try and renegotiate this year-end target with a visiting mission from the IMF.

It is expected the body will review the conditions of the country's stand-by loan next month.

Recently, the Romanian prime minister Emil Boc told Roumanie.com that the country will do anything and everything to help fight the recession.

He invited ideas from all corners of the country, pointing out that "no one holds a monopoly on truth".

This news item is brought to you by KMS Baltics in conjunction with Fest-Forest and EST KINNISVARA. Baltic forestry and property specialists.

Romania, Turkmenistan agree to cooperate on energy

ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan -- The presidents of Romania and Turkmenistan signed a declaration Wednesday calling for cooperation in the energy industry, as both nations seek to decrease reliance on Russia.Romanian President Traian Basescu said the declaration would "open a new path for energy cooperation.

Romania and other European Union nations are seeking to ease their dependence on Russia for natural gas supplies, an effort that grew more urgent after Russia in January cut off supplies delivered through Ukraine over a price dispute.

Turkmenistan, the former Soviet Union's second-biggest gas producer, is trying to loosen Russia's grip on export routes.Turkmen President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov said Europe is a "foreign policy priority" for his desert nation on the Caspian Sea. The country has slowly been emerging from the isolation imposed by longtime autocrat Saparmurat Niyazov, who died in 2006.

Basescu praised the Turkmen leader's recent expression of readiness to supply gas for the planned, EU-backed Nabucco pipeline, which would carry gas from the Caspian region to Europe via Turkey, bypassing Russia.

Romania, Turkey, Austria, Bulgaria and Hungary signed an agreement last week to allow the Nabucco pipeline to cross their countries.

EU Sees ‘Reform Momentum’ in Romania and Bulgaria

By Adam Brown and Elizabeth Konstantinova

July 22 (Bloomberg) -- The European Union sees “reform momentum” in Romania and Bulgaria and will reassess the two EU nations’ efforts next year to combat corruption and organized crime.“Progress is there, it needs to be reinforced,” EU spokesman Johannes Laitenberger said today after the Brussels- based bloc issued a report on the two former communist countries.

“There is no room for complacency.” In Romania, “the necessary structures are mostly in place” and Bulgaria “still has to work on the structural changes.”The Black Sea nations joined the EU in 2007 with warnings that they both had to step up their fight against corruption. Romania, the bigger of the two, stands to receive 32 billion euros ($45 billion) in EU aid through 2013, while Bulgaria could gain 11 billion euros.Today’s report came a year after the EU’s first annual report on the Balkan nations’ fight against corruption in which it suspended 500 million euros in subsidies to Bulgaria, accusing it of failure to crack down on graft and organized crime.

Romania was let off with a warning to overhaul its judiciary.Bulgaria and Romania, the poorest and newest members of the EU, also rank as the bloc’s most corrupt, according to Transparency International. EU warnings have prompted probes of cabinet ministers, businessmen and lawmakers. Neither has managed to convict a senior politician.

‘Too Slow’

The report said Bulgarian measures to fight corruption are “too slow” and it needs to achieve results “all across the board.” It also cited Romanian “shortcomings” and issued 21 recommendations for Bulgaria and 16 for Romania.“The commission has seen some new momentum in Bulgaria’s efforts to improve the judiciary and combat corruption since its report in July 2008,” today’s report said. “However, the steps are confined to the technical level and have limited impact.

They are not backed up by a broad political strategy or a convincing strategy to make the fight against corruption and organized crime the top priority for Bulgaria.”The report recommended Bulgaria develop specific structures to judge high level crime, strengthen regional anti-corruption councils, make it easier to freeze or confiscate assets of criminals, better safeguard whistle blowers, better monitor the impact of anti-graft laws and simplify criminal proceedings.Past AdministrationThe report on Bulgaria released today evaluates the work of the outgoing government of Socialist Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev who lost July 5 elections to Boiko Borissov and his three-year-old party GERB, which stands for Citizens of European Development of Bulgaria.

Borissov, who is expected to announce his Cabinet line up tomorrow, pledged to pull out the country of its worst economic slump in 11 years and root out corruption.“There are no big surprises in the report,” Bulgaria’s chief prosecutor Boris Velchev told reporters in Parliament in Sofia. “We’ve made significant progress, but more needs to be done and our work continues.”Prosecutors in Romania, which Transparency International ranks as the EU’s most corrupt nation, have accused almost 20 Cabinet ministers and former ministers of corruption since the country joined the EU although none have been convicted.“Romania has taken a number of welcome steps since the 2008 report,” today’s report said. “However, Romania is still struggling to overcome the fact that the criminal and civil codes were never fully revised.”

Better Monitoring

The report recommended that Romania ensure prompt investigations of senior officials, promote measures to prevent corruption and better monitor the efficiency of the justice system in conduction corruption trials.“The report overall is positive with the conclusion that Romania is winning in reforms,” Virgil Andreies, president of Romania’s Supreme Court, said in a news conference in Bucharest today.

“There are still issues to address.”The entry of Bulgaria and Romania marked the EU’s second expansion into the former Soviet bloc to establish market-based rules for industries ranging from energy and transportation to telecommunications and banking. Ten countries, including Poland and seven other nations in formerly communist eastern Europe, joined the EU in May 2004 and swelled the bloc’s population to about 460 million.

AP: Moldova: Romania had no hand in postelection riots

Moldova's general prosecutor says that Romania was not involved in violent riots that erupted after anti-government demonstrators stormed parliament and presidential offices, claiming elections were rigged.

Moldova's outgoing president, Vladimir Voronin, had accused Romania of trying to overthrow his government. Two people were killed in riots two days after the April 5 elections. Romania denied the charge.General prosecutor Valeriu Gurbulea said Wednesday that, during the riots, there was a cyberattack on Moldova's computers at state institutes that came from computers in Romania. He did not elaborate.He added that Romania "as a state" did not take part in the protests.

Moldova's parliament was dissolved in June after it twice failed to elect a president. Moldova holds parliamentary elections on July 29.

Romanian priests learn to fight against HIV-related stigma & discrimination

Source: World Vision Middle East/Eastern Europe/ Central Asia office

Romanian Orthodox priests are being prepared for the frontlines against the social impact of HIV and AIDS and the discrimination against people living with the virus which is so destructive to individuals and communities.

Some 20 priests from the Romanian communities where World Vision works recently took part in a 'Channels of Hope' workshop designed to help church leaders to take the lead in their communities against the social effects of the HIV epidemic. World Vision staff in Constanta took part in a subsequent workshop which looked at ways of fighting the stigma and discrimination related to HIV.

The majority of Romanians trust in the Church, particularly those in rural areas where the priest's authority exceeds that of the mayor, doctor or teacher. Young or old, from all walks of life, people across the country go to the priest for answers about spirituality and other issues. They also go to the priest to be heard.

Almost 10,000 people, who are infected with HIV or live with AIDS in Romania, particularly need answers and to be heard in a country where they are often pushed to the edge of society. For them, the priest's role is absolutely crucial.

In Constanta County a large group of HIV positive youth now want to get married and have their own families. Sixty-two babies were already born from HIV positive mothers.

"Without doubt, these persons in difficulty go to church for spiritual conciliation. The priest must have the accurate information about HIV and AIDS to be capable to solve his parishioners problems, not only from the religious point of view but also taking in consideration the medical prescriptions', explained Doctor Rodica Matusa who has worked with HIV positive children since 1985. The doctor, who took part in the workshop, believes that priests can change people's attitude towards the HIV phenomenon and combat stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV or AIDS.

Some of the priests from rural communities that took part in the workshop confessed to having limited knowledge about HIV or AIDS or what life is like for people living with the virus. A preliminary questionnaire revealed that all the priests didn't want to employ a nanny for their children without testing for HIV. 'Before this seminar, the nanny didn't have any chance. Now I see things differently and I will give her a fair chance', said Father Alexandru Alois from Buceag village.

'It is always interesting to work in teams. I was surprised to discover myself having a new vision, a new perspective about an old theme, to find a new way to deal with an old problem, in practice', shared Father Angel Ramboi.

A unanimous opinion was that 'all the inner fears can be overcome through education'. The priests understood that is important to be true priests and talk freely about HIV and AIDS, because the problem is real and won't disappear if they keep quiet. They also expressed the desire to receive informational materials about HIV and AIDS in order to inform people from their communities about HIV prevention in terms of abstinence and fidelity.

The priests also heard the story of a brave HIV positive young woman who answered their questions about her life, feelings, fears, treatment and future plans. Her optimism, courage and open mind were a lesson and an inspiration for the priests who left the seminary with a determination to be involved in the fight against HIV and its social impact.

But negative attitudes among the priesthood still prevail. Some refuse to address HIV because they don't want to talk about sex. Others refer to people living with HIV as 'SIDOSII'; an insulting and discriminatory word, but the Channels of Hope workshop in Constanta is a first step towards changing the way people think and talk about HIV and AIDS.

'We are leaving this workshop with the confidence that these leaders are now more sensitized to this complex problem and have proper tools to counsel an HIV affected/ infected person through conciliation, forgiveness and acceptance of their own destiny. Moreover, we hope that this network of priests will sustain our activity and combat stigma and bring more hope to their lives', said Raluca Bretea, coordinator of World Vision's 'Together for the Future' Project which supports 100 HIV positive youth.

'Church leaders, within the specifics of their mission, can have the best possible answer related to needs and solutions; messages like living life on faith values (abstinence before marriage, faithfulness, respect) are helping in prevention; counselling for those affected is feeding enormously the hope and the life quality; group counselling with community members and teenagers on issues like stigma and discrimination have as solution the love that God is giving and expecting us to share and promotion of justice is also an area where church leaders are the best advocates', concluded Venera Botescu, World Vision Romania's Gender and HIV projects coordinator.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Romania optimistic on Turkmen Nabucco gas

ASHGABAT, July 22 (Reuters) - Romanian President Traian Basescu said on Wednesday he was optimistic about Turkmen gas supplies for the EU-backed Nabucco pipeline, a project intended to ease Europe's energy dependence on Russia.

Turkmen President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov said earlier this month his country was ready to supply gas for Nabucco. His statement followed a row with Turkmenistan's main partner Russia, which stopped importing Turkmen gas in April.

"Turkmenistan's position on energy security issues makes Romania optimistic on the prospects of the country's (Turkmenistan's) participation in the Nabucco project," Basescu said at a meeting with Berdymukhamedov on his visit to the Central Asian nation.

He said Romania was also interested in tapping Turkmenistan's potentially huge gas reserves. Berdymukhamedov urged closer cooperation."Today's reality demonstrates the need for joint efforts in energy supply diversification by producing countries as well as consumers and transit nations," he said.Turkmenistan produces over 70 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas annually and used to sell about 50 bcm a year to Russia. (Reporting by Marat Gurt; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov)

Romanian mayor's Nazi uniform provokes outrage

(CNN) -- Jewish organizations called for a Romanian official to resign and face a criminal investigation after he wore a Nazi uniform during a fashion show over the weekend.

Radu Mazare, the mayor of the town of Constanta, wore a Nazi uniform during a fashion show over the weekend.

Radu Mazare, the mayor of the town of Constanta, wore a Nazi uniform during a fashion show over the weekend.

Radu Mazare, the mayor of the town of Constanta, and his 15-year-old son "entered the stage marching the clearly identifiable Nazi 'goose step,'" the Center for Monitoring and Combating anti-Semitism in Romania said in a letter to the country's prosecutor general.

The organization's director, Marco Katz, said Mazare had broken Romanian law and encouraged his son to do the same, "educating him to treat the law with contempt."

Katz said Mazare was sending a message "that to wear Nazi uniforms and to march the Nazi steps is legal and 'in vogue' in Romania."

He urged the authorities and the head of Mazare's Social Democrat party to show that message "will be strongly countermanded."

Mazare, 41, said he had not noticed the Nazi swastika symbol on the uniform before he wore it, according to the Romanian Times newspaper.

"I checked it before I put it on but the swastika was very small and I didn't see it," he said. "I really liked the look of the uniform after seeing it in the Tom Cruise film 'Valkyrie.' I bought it from a costume hire shop in Germany."

A top Nazi hunter said Mazare should quit.

"The proper thing for you to do is to admit your mistake, apologize for it and resign your position," Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem wrote to Mazare. Zuroff sent CNN a copy of the letter.

He said it was no defense that the uniform was that of the Wehrmacht -- the army -- rather than the SS, the elite Nazi guard which took the lead in killing Jews during the Holocaust.

"The Wehrmacht played an active role in the mass murder of European Jewry and many other innocent victims. By dressing in a Wehrmacht uniform, you are expressing totally unwarranted support and nostalgia for an army which committed the most terrible war crimes and acts of genocide," the letter said.

"It would hard to adequately describe the depth of the pain that your appearance caused, not only to Jews and other victims of Nazism, but to any person of moral integrity who knows the history of World War II," Zuroff wrote.

Zuroff told CNN he did not expect Mazare to resign, or even to respond to the letter.

But he said he hoped the mayor might act on Zuroff's suggestion that Mazare create a Romanian-language edition of an acclaimed exhibition on the crimes of the Wehrmacht.

The Nazi uniform incident, which took place Sunday, was the first time Zuroff heard of Mazare, he said.

"He has a history of being outrageous, but his antics have never included something that I would deal with," Zuroff said.

"He's a real character, apparently. He's also very popular, which makes this much more difficult."

CNN attempts to contact Mazare were unsuccessful.

Romania was a Nazi ally from 1940 to 1944, under the leadership of a right-wing military government led by General Ion Antonescu.

At least 270,000 Romanian Jews were killed or died from mistreatment during the Holocaust, according to the Holocaust Encyclopedia.

The 1930 Romanian census recorded 728,115 people who identified themselves as Jewish, comprising approximately 4 percent of the population, the reference work says.

Antonescu was deposed in 1944 and Romania switched sides in World War II.

U.S. Army Europe Soldiers With Joint Task Force-East Train Romanian Counterparts in Lifesaving Skills

MIHAIL KOGALNICEANU AIRFIELD, Romania -- Thirty Romanian soldiers trained on combat lifesaving skills here this week by U.S. Soldiers from Joint Task Force - East.

The Romanian troops from the 33rd Mountain Troops Battalion "Posada," who are preparing for an upcoming deployment, spent five days with U.S. Army Europe Soldiers from the 212th Combat Support Hospital completing the Combat Lifesaver Course, an introduction to basic medical treatment designed to save lives on the battlefield. Another 30 Mountaineer troops will arrive next week to do the same.

"We try and make this as stressful an environment as possible for the training evaluation portion," said 2nd Lt. John K. Karlsson, a Medical Service Corps officer assigned to JTF-E who facilitated the training.

"The first time one of these soldiers experiences a real injury in a heated combat environment this will hopefully help them be better prepared to handle it."

Combat Lifesaver Training teaches Soldiers how to perform basic lifesaving in a combat environment, such as how to stop bleeding, open an airway, administer an intravenous line to a patient and evacuate a casualty for medical treatment. Army medical officials say the training has been instrumental in helping stabilize injured Soldiers on the battlefield so they can be transported from point of injury to a medical facility within the "golden hour" during which a casualty the greatest chances of surviving.

Six Soldiers from the 212th, based at Miesau Army Depot, Germany, are conducting the training here and then will move on to do similar training in Bulgaria as part of JTF-E training operations there.

EBRD signs loan with Romania to fund energy cleanup

BUCHAREST, July 21 (Reuters) - The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and several commercial banks will lend 170 million euros ($241 million) to Romania to modernise its top power plant, the EBRD said on Tuesday.

The loan is part of the EBRD's plan to invest 1 billion euros in the new European Union member over the next two years, its participation in a 20 billion foreign aid package led by the International Monetary Fund and secured by Romania in March.

Like many power plants in Romania, the coal-powered Turceni plant in the south of the country, built under the communist regime, needs cash to upgrade its facilities to meet EU environmental standards.The EBRD said the loan programme was oversubscribed, suggesting hefty interest among foreign investors to bring cash to Romania, hit hard by the global financial crisis.

'There is a steady appetite for foreign investment in Romania,' Riccardo Puliti, head of the EBRD's Energy Businesss Group, told a news conference.Still, direct investment from abroad has fallen 42 percent on the year to 2.48 billion euros by the end of May and many market watchers warn that Romania needs to work on solid economic policies to ensure foreign cash returns after the global economy stabilises.

Commercial banks participating in the loan include: Austria's Erste, which owns Romania's biggest bank BCR, as well as Societe Generale, UniCredit and Intesa Sanpaolo. The Black Sea Trade and Development Bank will also participate.The London-based EBRD has committed more than 4.2 billion euros in projects in Romania and wants to trigger investments in sustainable energy projects worth up to 15 billion euros over the next three years across its areas of operations in the former Soviet bloc.

Romania, which produces around 20 percent of its power output in nuclear reactors, hopes to become a major regional hub for energy but its plans are mired by outdated technology and the risk of closures of facilities that don't meet EU rules.

Euro Parliament Sending Romanian-Led Mission To Moldovan Elections

www.rferl.org
STRASBOURG -- The European Parliament has said the seven-member delegation that will monitor Moldova's parliamentary elections on July 29 will be led by a Romanian, RFE/RL's Moldovan Service reports.

Conservative Romanian parliamentarian Marian Jean Marinescu, who has been critical of Moldova's handling of the crisis that followed the controversial elections of April 5, will head the group.

Two other Romanian members of the European Parliament will be in the delegation, which is scheduled to be in Chisinau from July 26-31.

The other four members of the team are from Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Bulgaria.

Moldova's Communist government -- which won the spring elections -- has accused Romania of meddling in its internal affairs and fomenting unrest in Chisinau after the vote.

Romania denies the accusations, but several Romanian officials have expressed concern over the way the last Moldova elections were held and have asked Chisinau to ensure free and fair polls this time around.

Romania econmin sees '09 budget deficit at 7 pct/GDP

BUCHAREST, July 21 (Reuters) - Romania's consolidated budget deficit may reach 7 percent of gross domestic product at the end of this year, Economy Minister Adriean Videanu said, far above an IMF-agreed 4.6 percent target.

Asked where he predicted the shortfall would be, Videanu told a Monday night television talkshow: "Seven percent in 2009."

The official said his centre-left government would try to renegotiate the year-end target with a visiting mission from the International Monetary Fund which is expected to review Romania's stand-by deal in early August.

But he would not say what the envisaged deficit figure was.

Government officials have said Romania needs a more generous budget to finance badly-needed infrastructure investment this year while its economy undergoes deeper than forecast recession.

Since it secured a 20 billion euro foreign aid package led by the IMF to shield its economy from global crisis, Romania has stayed on course with budget plans as agreed with a group of lenders that also includes the European Union.

But first-quarter data showed a deeper than expected recession at 6.2 percent on the year and a senior central banker had said the second-quarter contraction could be "significant".

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Romania 1H New Car Sales Down 51.3% On Year - MediaFax

BUCHAREST (Dow Jones)--Romanian new car sales fell 51.3% on the year in the first half to 70,610 units, the Automotive Manufacturers and Importers Association, or APIA, said Monday, MediaFax news agency reported.

In the first half of 2008, new car sales stood at 144,935 units.

In June, new car sales dropped 58.8% on the year to 12,716 units.

Romania's overall car market, including cars, commercial vehicles and buses fell 55.2% on the year to 79,069 units in the first half.

In 2008, the Romanian car market was down 11.7% on the year to 324,080 units.

Israelis held in Romania over human egg trafficking

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania has detained two Israelis and a Romanian on suspicion of trafficking in human eggs in their Bucharest-based fertility clinic, organized crime prosecutors said Monday.

Prosecutors said 22 other people, members of the same organization, were also under investigation.

"The group was focusing on identifying foreign couples eager to resort to reproduction techniques and on grabbing Romanian (women) aged 18-30 to donate ova for 800 to 1,000 lei ($270 to $335)," the department for fighting organized crime (DIICOT) said in a statement.

DIICOT said it had detained Harry Mironescu, a gynecologist and de facto head of the clinic, his son Yair Miron and Borzea Cecilia, a Romanian employee, for 24 hours and begun a criminal investigation against them.

Romanian television said the clinic had carried out about 1,200 in vitro fertilization procedures since opening in 1999, and that the main beneficiaries were Israeli, Italian and British couples.

Vasile Astarastoaie, head of Romania's medical watchdog Colegiul Medicilor, said the procedures were illegal because the clinic had not been authorized to carry them out.

In vitro fertilization, used by couples who cannot conceive normally, involves fertilizing eggs outside the body and placing them in the uterus for a normal pregnancy. If a woman's eggs are infertile, a donor must be found to provide fertile eggs.

(Reporting by Radu Marinas; editing by Tim Pearce)

Romanian mayor and son parade as Nazis

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - A Romanian city mayor outraged Jewish and pro-democracy groups after he goose-stepped with his son in World War Two German uniforms during a weekend fashion show.

Wearing Nazi uniform is illegal in Romania, which denied participating in the Holocaust until 2004 when it accepted the findings of international commission that Romanian authorities killed up to 380,000 Jews in territories under their control.

The Centre for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism sent a letter Monday to the country's general prosecutor urging an investigation of Radu Mazare, 41, mayor of Black Sea city port Constanta, for breaking the law and instigating a child to follow his example.

Mazare said the uniform had no swastikas and was the uniform of a German infantry general and nothing to do with the SS."I was inspired from the Valkyrie movie ... I wanted to dress like a Vehrmacht general because I've always liked this uniform, and admired the rigorous organisation of the German army," newspaper Evenimentul Zilei quoted him as saying.

Under pro-Nazi Marshal Ian Antonescu, Romania became a German ally in 1940 but switched sides just before war ended.

Monday, July 20, 2009

"It was impossible to have a revolution in Romania. So it had to be staged."

Christmas Day 1989: Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena are shot dead by firing squad, after a trial lasting less than two minutes. But was the world watching a people's uprising, or a communist coup d'état? Ed Vulliamy returns to Bucharest, to report on the aftermath of the most mysterious downfall of the Cold War

Ed Vulliamy
The Observer, Sunday 19 July 2009

The executioner walks into the venerable, dusty, fin-de-siècle office of the Association of 21 December. The organisation, so named to commemorate the first day of the December 1989 revolt in Bucharest, is suing the Romanian government for the truth about the still opaque mysteries of the revolution which overthrew communism in Romania 20 years ago. As with many of the small people who make epic history, the executioner's story emerges slowly.

Dorin-Marian Cirlan is one of the three-man firing squad which killed the megalomanic communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena on Christmas Day 1989. Cirlan emptied the magazine clipped to his Kalashnikov AK-47 into the couple's bodies from near point-blank range, after they had been captured by revolutionaries. The moments after the execution were famously televised, broadcast to Romania and the world as evidence that an era had ended, that the most turbulent and violent of the revolutions which collapsed communism across Eastern Europe during 1989 had achieved its immediate objective.

But the Romanian revolution was not what it seemed - that is, a popular revolt against the dictator in which the people were joined by the army. Ever since, the man who apparently led the insurgency and succeeded Ceausescu, Ion Iliescu, has frequently been accused of staging more of a coup d'état than an uprising.

As the strange story of Dorin-Marian Cirlan suggests.I met Cirlan in May. Dressed in a black bomber jacket, blue polo shirt, black trousers and polished shoes, Cirlan has a thick set, stern, determined face. "I sat on Ceausescu's body after killing him, because there was nowhere else to sit in the helicopter. It was probably more comfortable than the seats," he told me. "He was still warm, and his blood spread on to my camouflaged trousers. The armed forces never paid to have them cleaned.

"Will this, then, turn out to be the narrative of a professional but impenitent (if not callous) paratrooper carrying out instructions? Not at all. "Yes, I did feel as though I had played a part in history. I knew all about the French revolution, the guillotine, and felt that I had done something similar. But I was not comfortable with it. The trial lasted 1 minute and 44 seconds, the execution less than 10 minutes. I had been trained as a commando to fight for this country. Ceausescu was my supreme commander-in-chief, and I had been trained to protect him at all costs, not to kill him."Cirlan's narrative ploughs its remarkable furrow for the first time in English (he has written a book in Romanian), with the military precision one would expect from an elite paratrooper. And yet it ends with the plea of a man curiously isolated from a society supposedly now liberated from the dictator he killed.

For two years, in the late 1980s, Cirlan had been a member of an elite paratroop commando unit. On the morning of Christmas Day 1989 his unit was told that volunteers were needed for a "special mission" categorised Zero Degrees - "which signified that one did not know that one was going to return". Eight commandos were flown in two helicopters, "commando style", says Cirlan, "at 150kph, but only 15-30 metres above the ground, so as to fly below radar, and in a zig-zag motion." The destination was a stretch of land near the Steaua Bucharest football stadium. "We were met by a convoy of an APC [armoured personnel carrier] and several cars carrying senior officials and General Victor Stanculescu, whom I knew from the TV was the revolutionary deputy minister of defence, and whom I had seen on television as part of the National Salvation Front."The helicopters then flew on to Tirgoviste, "escorted by a strong air defence - five helicopters in all, flying only 10 metres above the ground, told to show the yellow scarf, signifying 'Heroes without Honour'.

Then we landed."Cirlan hunches forward, elbows on knees, kneading his hands together. His shape wouldn't get him into the paras now, but you can tell that two decades ago, this was a man of imposing physique. "First, General Stanculescu said he needed four people from each helicopter, and that what would happen would be done without badges, and we must be armed with grenades and knives as well as our weapons. 'My dear comrades,' he said, 'I have trusted the paratroopers long, and now I trust your commitment to the revolution.' He said there would be 'an exceptional military tribunal' to 'apply the law of the National Salvation Front, to try and condemn the couple who have done terrible things to the Romanian people. Do we proceed together to the end?' he asked, and I thought: 'What end?'"Then the general said: 'If the sentence is death, are you ready to carry out that sentence?' We all, like a choir, replied 'Yes.' He was unhappy with that, and asked anyone willing to carry out the sentence to step forward. We all stepped forward. Then he appointed three of us, a captain, me [a petty officer] and a sergeant.

We were ordered to get everyone out of the building, guard the door of the courtroom and kill anyone who tried to break in. The captain was shown the place where Ceausescu would be killed if he was given the death sentence, and we were told to empty a whole magazine of ammunition into him."Ceausescu arrived at the court and, according to Cirlan, he panicked: "He didn't know who we were. 'Are you Romanian?' he asked. 'We are with the general,' I answered. We had to stand guard outside the trial, but could hear perfectly well. When the sentence was read, it was a terrible moment. 'Appeal in 10 days,' said the voice, 'sentence to be carried out immediately.' I was about to kill the president, but I told myself to act without thinking, especially from any judicial point of view. General Stanculescu took a stand. He ordered us to tie them up, take them to the wall, shoot him and then her."Then the Ceausescus appeared. "They were whining like children," Cirlan remembers. "'We can't be killed like dogs!' he cried, and looked at us. 'We're going to be killed like dogs!' It was a hard moment for all of us. Then she said: 'If you are going to kill us, then out of respect for our love for each other, don't kill him and make me watch. At least let me die along with my husband.' And the general ordered: 'Take her to the wall with him.'"At one point, Cirlan said, "It was so hard to look at them, we turned away.

They were placed against the wall. We knew who they were, but I suddenly saw this human face - he looked so puzzled by it all. Then he looked straight into my eyes and shouted: 'Long live the socialist republic of Romania! History will avenge me!' And he started singing a fragment of the 'Internationale'. That is when the order came, and all three of us fired, from the hip. We shot him while he was singing. We shot them from a distance of one metre, maybe even 50cm. We'd only emptied half the magazines before they were pinned to the wall, dead. The impact of bullets into her was so strong that she went like this..." and Cirlan, seated until now, gets up to demonstrate how Elena Ceausescu was blown diagonally and upwards against the wall. He then returns to the black faux-leather sofa."We were like robots," he said. "We did everything very quickly.

Ever since then all I have wanted to do is to study philosophy and law. To understand what I did, legally. I was a petty officer obeying the orders of a general, who killed a man after a fake trial. I killed Ceausescu on Christmas Day, but the decree setting up the court was signed on the 27th, by which time he had already been dead for two days. Only that night did they show the bodies on television. None of our movements that day left any paper trail at all.

The man I killed was the dictator they all said they hated, but they ostracised me forever afterwards, all the same. Iliescu does not like me, the press blamed me in some way for the unfairness of the trial and for firing all my magazine. The politicians kept their distance from the whole thing, and I was sacked by the Ministry of Defence in 1998."The fixed, recollective expression in Cirlan's face changes. He becomes sorrowful in a defeated, baffled way. "I am now a lawyer, but cut off from society, living on the edges, a black sheep who gives legal advice. And it is a gift of God that I am alive to tell the tale."With that, former Petty Officer Cirlan, the tyrant's executioner, rises, shakes hands, and leaves the office.

To shake the hand of Cordruta Cruceanu outside the national gallery of art in Bucharest is to do so across 20 years since we first met. In 1989, she was a curator in the museum while a battle raged among the paintings. One day, as we walked the gallery floors, the view across the cobbled square through a large opening blown in the elegant wall by an artillery shell was of tanks grinding over charred debris, nervous young soldiers - with flowers placed in their helmets by the people - returning the occasional crack of sniper fire, and crowds come to gawp at the fallen fortresses of the Ceausescu regime. It looked like war from another time, on black and white newsreel; a week had passed since Ceausescu's execution, but it had taken days to subdue the stench of gunsmoke, shellfire and scorched masonry.Beneath our feet as we walked were the incinerated remains of the museum's inventory - paintings were pitted with bullet holes, the canvases strewn like corpses in a morgue. "As you can see, there was heavy fighting here, the Byzantine room," Cruceanu said. "And a lot of shots were fired in the 19th-century national school, where we think our army had come in. But the Securitate [Ceausescu's secret police] must have come through the forbidden corridors from the palace, or a skylight"... and we ascended to the third storey... "so that most of the shooting was here among the European paintings, of which I'm the curator."

My notebook recorded that there was damage to Boccaccini's Samson Breaking the Pillars of the Temple, Gentilleschi's Mother and Child and Rembrandt's A Man Begging the Forgiveness of Esther. At the end of the gallery was a piano, lightly coated in snow which had drifted in through the holes punched by shellfire and the top of a dome that had been blown off. Cruceanu raised the lid and played a few notes of, I think, Bach. "It works!" she said. "So you see, there is hope."In May, Cruceanu and I met again, in spring sunshine. Now 55, she told me that the gallery held an exhibition of the damaged paintings in 2000, but of the events of 1989 she said, "We still don't really know the full truth, and I wonder if we ever will.

There are too many people alive in whose interests it is that we never know who was fighting who, and why. What we do know, though, is that it was all theatre, to a degree - that it was staged."Although the Romanian revolution was the most dramatic of the insurgencies against communism that swept across and united Europe 20 years ago, it was also the most mysterious, dichotomous and duplicitous.

At the time, the world watched a mass uprising against the Ceausescu regime: first in Timisoara, then memorably at a mass rally Ceausescu held in Bucharest, where the crowd began to jeer and boo him. Shortly afterwards, he and his wife Elena were executed. However, it took some time before the revolutionary leadership under Ceausescu's challenger, Iliescu, could subdue the Securitate loyal to the tyrant. The violence was terrible and the deaths, over many days before and after the execution, remain incalculable to this day.

No one doubts that there was a popular and bold revolution, on the streets, by the people. But what is still not explained is who was manipulating them, and why. Who was shooting at who? And what were Iliescu, his faction in the communist party, and generals loyal to him doing behind the scenes? Lingering still, after two decades, is the appalling notion that the fighting was fabricated and that the revolution was a facade."Of all the hundreds of speeches Iliescu made and has made since then," recalls Cordruta Cruceanu, "the one that sticks in my mind was when he said: 'In a country like Romania, it was impossible to have a revolution, so it had to be staged.'

That is the closest he has ever come to admitting what almost everybody believes, or knows, to have happened."The fall of Ceausescu was announced, unforgettably, by Romania's leading actor, Ion Caramitru, on television from the national TV headquarters, which had been occupied by the democratic revolutionaries, of whom he and the dissident writer Mircea Dinescu, with whom he appeared on screen, were the most prominent.

I remember days and nights in the TV centre - which was under fire from what were thought to be loyalists to Ceausescu - meeting Caramitru during the endless and open debates about the future of the nation and what to broadcast about it, in a mood which seemed to combine 1968 with something more fearsome. Caramitru has since become a screen star and one of Europe's greatest Shakespearean stage leads - notably Hamlet and Lear - but he never left politics: he left Iliescu's National Salvation Front when it turned itself into the ruling political party, and was minister of culture in the rival coalition government between 1996 and 2000.Last month, after a striking performance of Edward III at the national theatre of Romania, of which he is the director, Caramitru invited me up for wine and reflection in his splendid, book-lined office. "I was gesticulating with the officer of an APC after two days on the streets - 21 and 22 of December," he recalls, "and asked him if he was the commander. The officer replied, weeping like a child, that if Ceausescu had fled, we, the people, must be the commander, so that 'You must be my commander now.' The whole thing was surreal:I said: 'OK, let's take your APC to the television station, then,' which we did - the people marching behind - and went in. We got the transmission organised and then we made the announcement: 'You are free, Ceausescu is gone.'"There had been a revolution by the people, but the people had been tricked," he says. "We were romantics, we had no relationship with those in power. Within a year, it was beyond doubt that one faction had simply removed another faction, probably in direct contact with Moscow, where Gorbachev had realised that Ceausescu's system would implode.

The institutions which had run the country remained intact, albeit with another name. Tragically, more people were killed after the execution of Ceausescu than before. If I were Iliescu and believed in God, I'd fear God's judgment regarding the dead."The falsehood bequeathed a strange hybrid: a country which embraced the capitalist market system, but was still run by the old guard.

The legacy is reflected in a report last year by the European Union, which admitted Romania only to label its new member the EU's second most corrupt country, after Bulgaria.There was an attempt to clean up the system, by the current president, Traian Basescu, but such was the resistance from parliament that, as one of the Justice Ministry's assistants during that period, Laura Stefanescu, puts it, "Our only victory was that there was no defeat, and that the immunity of the political class did not become even stronger. Romania," she said, "is like the international banking system, throughout an entire society: rules exist only for honest people; there are no rules for those who are corrupt."The corruption results not only from the falsehood of the "revolution", says Mattei Paulin, an investment banker raised abroad but who repatriated after 1989, but in "the west's complicity in the privatisations" that followed. "Before 1989, there were various factions within the communist system," Paulin told me. "Now, after what I call a 'regicide' rather than a coup d'état, let alone a revolution, those same factions exist in what appears to be a market system, but is in reality a rotten state which sold off such assets as the national bank and Petrom [the state oil company] and its substantial drilling interests for a fraction of their value, to companies from France, Austria and other countries, simply to protect their own political positions. The western powers and corporations happily and knowingly played along.

"The iconic flag of 1989, the Romanian tricolour of blue, yellow and red with a hole cut where the communist symbol was, still flies in the magnificent hallway of the offices of the Association of 21 December, its old wooden walls covered with pictures of the burning art gallery, other unforgettable scenes from those days, and portraits of the dead. From here, Doru Maries's association has been suing the Romanian government (and now does so through the European Court in Strasbourg) for a truthful account of what happened in 1989.

A former professional footballer, Maries was among those in the democratic opposition who occupied the Politburo building as Ceausescu fled it (it was on the balcony of the Politburo that Iliescu appeared to the crowds). Maries was among those who grabbed a gun as he entered, only to offer it back after he realised what was happening. "A group was at one point sent down to the basement to confront Securitate 'terrorists'," he said. "Another was sent with the same order, but down another staircase. They ended up shooting at each other. What we are claiming is that there were no 'terrorists', that the whole thing was fabricated, and the deaths unnecessary."Maries produces documents filed in court, which he says show Iliescu ordering the communist party apparatus to continue collecting subscriptions, and for its officials to remain in place. "For 20 years," he said, "we have faced a wall of silence, and continue to do so."When the democratic movement in Romania began to sense that things were not as they seemed, demonstrations against Iliescu took to the streets. Between early 1990 and 1992 they were routinely attacked by what became known as the mineriada - violent interventions by coal miners from the Jiu Valley.

The miners were mobilised by union leader Miron Cozma, who was ferociously loyal to Iliescu, and ostensibly to the men he represented. On one occasion, miners ransacked the headquarters of conservative parties; on another, they cracked the skulls of demonstrating students.Much has been written on Cozma's escapades, but little on the duality of pride and shame in the story of the Romanian miners, who always held a special place in communist iconography, even though the drab apartment blocks in which they lived were not allowed chimneys in case they were tempted to warm themselves with what they mined.

There was another minerad in 1999, this time in defence of miners' jobs, as the pitheads began to close. The impact of pit closures on the Jiu Valley is catastrophic, and a parable of the price Romania paid for liberty 20 years ago, when it exchanged the iron fist of communism for the ravages of the market. Or, as some would argue, combined the worst of both.Miron Cozma was jailed for his part in the miners' demonstrations against the pit closures, but pardoned by the re-elected Iliescu and released in 2004. Today, his brother, Tiberiu, is the deputy leader of the miners' union. "What we have seen," Tiberiu said, "is the politically motivated destruction of the Romanian coal industry, as agreed between the government and the IMF in 1997. When you were last here, 47,000 men worked in these mines. There are now less than 11,000."In an upper region of Vulcan called Dallas (out of mockery), sewage runs in the open, children play in filth and squalor, idle families crowd the balconies of the peeling apartment blocks, where the lifts have been jammed and used for storage. Ion Nelu tries to provide for his wife and three children. Laid off from the mine in 1997, he does this, he says, "by maybe finding scrap metal, in the closed mines, or some coal to steal. Or else by foraging around the forest for mushrooms to sell."To the north is Aninoasa, an entirely dead town since the pit was closed. As we drive through, a group of men are loading scrap metal, baths and toilets ransacked from the closed mine and empty houses on to a truck. "Don't stop," I'm told. "Very dangerous." Watching from a bench is Szebiges Lajos, who once worked in the mine. "It was always hard," he says. "Before, you had the secret police on your back, but at least we had work. Now, absolutely nothing.

Why would anyone want to close down a perfectly good mine?"Coal now comes to Romania from Russia, the Ukraine and South Africa. Illie Martin, the former manager at the Vulcan mine, now runs a company with a contract to clean the town. He said he had tried to move from management to lead the union, but was elbowed out.At the other end of the Carpathian mountains, it is a similar story. Behind the Danube port of Galati stands what was once an awesome steelworks. In 1989, the state-run Sidex was the largest steelworks in Europe, producing the widest range of specialised steel on the continent. The site now belongs to Lakshmi Mittal, the world's biggest steel magnate and Britain's richest man. According to the leaders of Solidarity, a new, independent miners union, Mittal is "amputating the factory, limb by limb". It was for "downsizing" like this that Mittal's headquarters in Luxembourg was besieged by rioting steelworkers last month."At its peak, Sidex employed 40,000 people," said Ilinca Bianocu, the female president of Solidarity. "When Mittal bought the works there were 27,000. Now we are down to 12,500. The government sold it for nothing, and now the new owners claim it is not competitive, so they will not invest," she said. "And I wonder why. The demand for steel increases, the price of steel rises, but the jobs decrease.We see no reason to run down this pearl of Romania, unless it is to move the entire industry to India and China.

"Back in Bucharest, after walking through the now completely refurbished art gallery, Cordruta Cruceanu chooses a café she likes in a restored building from Romania's great inter-war days of cultural proximity to Paris. "They have managed to do some lovely things to the old cafés," she observed, recalling how she used to wander through the ruins of this now smart place to admire a statue of a dolphin. Now, though, "I work differently," she said, "to try and contest the values in this country which have become, frankly, screwed up. I'm involved in a project in Sofia, getting children away from their computer screens and into the city, to look at how they relate to it, to what in the Renaissance was called the Piazza, the urban space, physically, artistically, socially."Cruceanu believes that "with hindsight, Romania was more vulnerable than any other communist country to the myth of the west as material paradise, to mall culture and measurement of success by what kind of mobile phone you have. It's particularly strong here, perhaps because it all happened so suddenly, even to the educated classes.

A lot of damage has been done, both to Romania and to the west, as we now see in this crisis: because the west began to believe some of our illusions about itself - in our false expectations of what it seemed to promise, back then in 1989. Which feels at once like another lifetime, but yesterday."

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