Friday, October 30, 2009

NGOs warn of fraud in Romanian elections

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romanian pro-democracy groups claim that a referendum held at the same time as presidential elections is illegal and could lead to fraud.

Four groups say President Traian Basescu, who is running for re-election, has an unfair advantage in the Nov. 22 double vote.

They said in a joint statement Thursday that Basescu had begun the campaign for the referendum to downsize parliament early. They say the two votes will increase the likelihood of fraud.

Mircea Toma, director of the Agency for Press Monitoring, said Friday that Basescu "has one poster with the referendum and one with the presidential race. It is not allowed."

The constitutional court will rule on their complaint.

Tales from the Golden Age

Peter Bradshaw

Thursday 29 October 2009

Tales from the Golden Age
Production year: 2009
Country: Rest of the world
Cert (UK): 12A
Runtime: 131 mins
Directors: Constantin Popescu, Cristian Mungiu, Hanno Hofer, Ioana Uricaru, Razvan Marculescu
Cast: Alexandru Potocean, Avram Birau, Diana Cavallioti, Radu Iacoban, Tania Popa, Vlad Ivanov

The new wave of Romanian cinema has become known internationally for a single, grim masterpiece: Cristian Mungiu's incomparably bleak 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, about a young woman's attempts to procure an abortion under the regime of Nicolae Ceauşescu. Yet Romania's film-makers are also capable of the darkest comedy,as in Cristi Puiu's The Death of Mr Lazarescu, and a rich and tonally complex attitude to the wretchedness of the Ceauşescu police state. (British audiences have incidentally yet to experience Corneliu Porumboiu's truly strange, deadpan new satire Police, Adjective about a cop of that era refusing to collar an innocuous dope-smoker, a bizarre work whose exact flavour is almost impossible to define.)

Cristian Mungiu's new film is in a lighter and more commercial vein than his last feature, and arrives to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Nicolae and Elena's downfall. It's a portmanteau collection of cine-sketches about life under their hated regime – bulging with scorn, surrealism and gallows humour. Mungiu is the sole screenwriter, but he has partly sub-contracted the directing to a group of other film-makers: Ioana Uricaru, Hanno Höfer and Constantin Popescu. The stories are purportedly based on urban myths: rumours of the farcical absurdities that Romanians suffered under the communist rule.

It's comparable to Brecht's Fear and Misery of the Third Reich, yet the humour is drier, slyer. One story is about a village preparing frantically to Potemkinise their dismal community before the arrival of a party bigwig, but when an underling arrives to say that the visit is cancelled, everyone piles on to a fairground carousel swing in a mood of delirious relief. Too late, they realise they can't stop, because no one can reach the off button – they must just whirl on until the machine runs out of fuel 12 hours later: a great image for incompetence, insincerity and an eternity of desperation. Elsewhere, an official photo retoucher has the job of making Ceauşescu look as tall and imposing as Giscard d'Estaing during that pre-Photoshop era. A couple of students, apparently inspired by a samizdat video of Bonnie and Clyde, embark on a confidence scam to part people from glass bottles, which can be sold for cash. In another tale, a truck driver played by Vlad Ivanov (the abortionist from 4 Months) has the task of conveying chickens across country in food-strapped Romania, under strict orders not to stop. When he does, calamity strikes, and his story provides the serious centrepiece to the collection.

But easily the best mini-film concerns a middle-aged copper who, like the rest of Romanians, is starving hungry. When his brother-in-law gives him a live pig, he knows that if he slaughters it in the usual way, the animal's screams will alert his neighbours to his pork supply. So he prepares to gas the animal, a plan that relies terrifyingly on no one nearby striking a match. It's a tremendously tense farce, which reminded me pleasantly of Alan Bennett's A Private Function.

The dark laughter involved is Romania's way of staying sane, not merely at the time but, also, in a way, right now. Comedy is a way of looking back at the horror without the rage and despair becoming unendurable.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Romanian president: IMF agreement needs revisions

BUCHAREST, Romania—An International Monetary Fund delegation heads for Romania on Wednesday to evaluate the country's economic performance, with President Traian Basescu saying the country will not be able to honor all the requirements of its bailout loan agreements.

Basescu says some terms of the $17.1 billion agreement to fight the economic crisis will have to change.

"The agreemeent for 2010 must be revised", Basescu said Monday according to the agency Agerpres news agency. "It is clear that certain changes must be made, (...) because Romania will not be able to fulfill all its commitments by Dec. 31."

Romania is mired in a deep recession and political infighting and is dependent on the IMF loan to pay government workers' wages. The economy is predicted to shrink by 8 percent this year.

The government of Prime Minister Emil Boc and supported by Basescu was dismissed two weeks ago in a no-confidence vote. Parliament and Basescu have been embroiled in bitter feuds for years.

Next week the Parliament is scheduled to vote on a new government led by Lucian Croitoru, an adviser to the central bank governor. Basescu nominated Croitoru as prime minister despite strong opposition from three political parties with a parliamentary majority, who want a different candidate. It is unlikely that a Croitoru government will receive the Parliament's support.

Until a new government is voted by Parliament, the caretaker government led by Boc has only limited powers.

Some of the reforms initiated by Boc's government to comply with the terms of the IMF loan agreement are still on stand by. The Constitutional Court must rule whether several laws freezing salaries and laying off workers in public institutions are constitutional.

The government led by Boc insisted the unpopular reforms were needed to keep the budget deficit in check. The IMF expects the authorities to draft the budget for 2010, with a budget deficit no higher than 5.9 percent of GDP.

The two-year IMF loan is part of a larger $26.4 billion package to which the European Union, the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development are contributing, among others. The money is made available in quarterly installments subject to the IMF's review of Romania's economy

IMF starts Romania aid review, seeks political support

BUCHAREST, Oct 28 (Reuters) - An IMF mission begins a second review of Romania's aid package on Wednesday and a Fund official was quoted as saying the lender would look for broad political support for keeping the agreement going.

The International Monetary Fund, which oversees a 20 billion euros loan package for Romania, relented on plans to postpone the visit until a new government was formed. The centrist minority government collapsed in a confidence vote earlier this month.

A staff mission will review progress made in meeting conditions attached to the deal, together with teams from the European Commission and the World Bank, which have contributed funds to the overall package.

Under the terms of the deal, Romania must enforce sharp cost-cutting measures to rein in budget spending.

'Basically, (the IMF) will check if these factors (finance ministry, central bank, political parties) have the determination to meet commitments,' Mihai Tanasescu, Romania's IMF representative was quoted as saying by daily Gandul.

'It will verify just how much we want to carry this agreement to term.'

Earlier this month, IMF mission chief for Romania Jeffrey Franks said a follow-up mission may be needed once Romania has a new government. The disbursement of a third tranche worth 1.5 billion euros by the end of 2009 hinges on the review.

On Wednesday, parliament holds hearings of the proposed cabinet of designate prime minister Lucian Croitoru, but his chances of securing parliament support were slim.

While Romania has met some of the IMF conditions, including a third quarter budget deficit cap, it still needs to approve a 2010 budget plan with a deficit of no more than 5.9 percent of gross domestic product from a goal of 7.3 percent this year.

It also needs to issue a fiscal responsibility law and a pension bill by the end of 2009.

Tanasescu said the 2010 budget was a major concern for the mission, and the timely disbursement of the third tranche depended on it, but that the Washington-based lender might be willing to show flexibility on other deadlines.

'It is not the end of the world if the IMF calendar isn't strictly respected. The agreement is valid and will be valid.'

Romanian September Residential Building Permits Rise On Month

(RTTNews) - Wednesday, a report by Romania's National Institute of Statistics said building permits issued for residential buildings rose 1.5% in September compared to August. Year-on-year, permits fell 23.4%. In September, a total of 4,724 building permits were issued, of which 64.3% was for the rural areas.

In the first nine months of the year, the building permits totaled 37,758, down 20.4% from the corresponding period last year.

Farmers protest in Bucharest over unpaid subsidies

(AP:BUCHAREST, Romania) Hundreds of farmers are protesting in Bucharest over unpaid government subsidies.

The protesters said Wednesday the government has not paid them subsidies of 44 lei (euro10) for each sheep and goat they have and only 35 percent of the promised subsidies for cows has been allocated.

Farmers association Agrostar says farmers says will go bankrupt if subsidies are not paid.

Protesters tried to break through a police line to get into the Finance Ministry, but were kept back.

Romania is mired in a deep recession and authorities pledged to keep the budget deficit in check in return for a $17.1 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund. An IMF delegation began a visit to Romania Wednesday to evaluate the country's economy.

Banca Transilvania 9-mo net profit at 48 mln lei

* Banca Transilvania 9-mo net plunges 87.8 pct

* Slightly above market expectations

BUCHAREST, Oct 28 (Reuters) - Romania's Banca Transilvania BATR.BX posted an 87.8 percent plunge in nine-month net profit on Wednesday, hit by bad debt provisions, but slightly above market expectations.

The bank said its net profit stood at 48.3 million lei ($16.7 million), compared with an average forecast of 24 million in a Reuters poll earlier this week. [ID:nLR155557]

Gross operating profit before provisions was 418 million lei, 83 percent higher than in the same period of last year.

The bank slashed its cost-to-income ratio to 55 percent from 70 percent last year. Results include a one-off profit of 13.8 million lei from the sale of its stake in BT Aegon to Aegon NV (AEGN.AS).

"Results are in line (with expectations), revenues are slightly better ... and one-offs are also slightly higher," said Adriana Marin of UniCredit CAIB Securities in Bucharest.

Eastern European banks have been hit by a painful recession that has almost frozen lending and increased bad debt provisions. Analysts expect Romanian banks to continue to struggle with risk costs in the fourth quarter as well.

"Next quarter doesn't seem to be easier for the business environment than this one (the third)," the bank's CEO Robert Rekkers said in a statement. (Reporting by Marius Zaharia; Editing by David Holmes) ($1=2.895 Lei)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Romania's amnesia-induced ambivalence

By refusing to confront its past, the Eastern European nation has left its future in doubt.
Gregory Rodriguez

October 26, 2009

Three weeks ago, when the Nobel committee awarded its literature prize to Romanian writer Herta Muller, it lauded her courageous and unflinching fictional portraits of "daily life in a stagnated dictatorship" in communist Romania. What they did not mention, however, was Muller's ongoing nonfictional critique of the leadership of post-communist Romania.

Only days after she won the Nobel, Muller, who now lives in Germany, blasted her homeland for not having broken more completely with its communist past. In a stunning series of confrontations in December 1989, the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was overthrown and executed. Twenty years later, Muller said, as many as 40% of the people in power in contemporary Romania are veterans of the Securitate, the dreaded communist-era secret police.

Two years ago, she published a scathing essay in a Frankfurt newspaper accusing the country she fled in 1987 of "collective amnesia."

"In Romania," she wrote, "they're pretending that [the past] disappeared into thin air." This amnesia, she said, allows the "old mentality" to function in "new methods."

Last week, as a guest of the Romanian government, I visited Bucharest for the first time since 1998, and I couldn't help but think of Muller's critique.

I saw how much things had changed in the decade since I had last been there. A higher quality of living for the lucky few, significantly worse traffic congestion and a seemingly exponential rise in the number of people who speak proficient English.

Eleven years ago, the country's aspirations were symbolized by its drive to join the European Union and NATO, a dream that stemmed as much from Romanians' dogged insistence on being Latin and Western (as opposed to Slavic and Eastern) as it did from their desire to elevate their standard of living. Both of those goals have since been fulfilled, and I was curious to assess the state of Romania's famous fatalism -- a trait blamed not just on 40 years of totalitarian rule but on centuries of foreign domination.

"It's even worse than it was before," leading writer and talk-show host Stelian Tanase told me. "After the fall of communism, people wanted to talk and scream. Now we've lost the courage to assert ourselves in public life."

Ioana Paverman, a 24-year-old political science graduate student, agrees. She says too many of her classmates want out of Romania; they aren't trying to make it better. Her guess is that seven out of 10 of her undergraduate classmates have left the country. She insists it's as much a vote against the culture as it is about economic opportunities.

Like Muller, she thinks what's missing is a reckoning with history, confronting the legacies of Ceausescu. "You can't build a future if you don't have a past," she told me at a cafe near Bucharest's University Square. "We're practically doing what the communists did -- erasing what went before."

Where Paverman sees the cream of her generation voting with its feet, others see too many not exercising their rights at all. Focus groups conducted by the Center for Independent Journalism in Bucharest found that when asked to name the source of their rights, most young people said "the government." What that means, says the center's executive director, Ioana Avadani, is that those born after the end of communism are still growing up in a paternalistic culture in which "schools don't prepare them to live in a free society."

Similarly, a June survey by Romania's National Institute of Opinion Surveys and Marketing found that 66% of respondents discuss politics only once a week or less. Not surprisingly then, Romania experienced the single most drastic drop in voter turnout of any comparable post-communist Eastern European nation -- from a high of 86% in 1990 to 39% last year. Asked to explain it, two-thirds of the survey respondents blamed the "low quality of Romania's political elite," who they believe are the same cast of characters from the past.

Such polls lead back to Muller's point. Neglecting to confront the terrible communist past, reconfiguring the old power structure rather than starting anew, not only breeds cynicism but leaves the electorate unsure of the exact nature of their responsibilities as citizens of a democracy.

But does it mean that Romania is hopeless? For a visitor, it is a positive sign that the body politic is being tested and probed. That intellectuals and students are raising their voices in concern. That a quarrelsome, newly named Nobel Prize winner is giving Romania's political deficits a high profile.

But I was also struck by how little the 1989 "revolution" and even European integration had changed what ails Romanian culture most.

There's a proverb in Romania that has been passed down from generation to generation and is used to counsel those in conflict. "When your head is bent," it goes, "the sword won't cut your neck."

Twenty years after their brutal revolution, some Romanians are still fighting that fatalistic impulse. It remains to be seen if the rest of their countrymen will ever lift their heads.

Greenpeace wins Romania nuclear plant case


BUCHAREST — Environmental group Greenpeace won a court case in Romania on Monday that could force the authorities there to make public a list of potential locations for the construction of a nuclear power plant.

The economy ministry must "communicate the requested information to the claimant," a ruling published on the Bucharest court's website said.

The ministry is to pay penalties if it does not obey the ruling but can appeal against the court's decision.

Greenpeace had applied to the court after asking the ministry in vain for a list of the 100 locations under review for the construction of Romania's second nuclear plant, which is expected to start after 2020.

"The ministry's refusal to make public the list of potential sites.... is a serious violation of the Constitution", Greenpeace said in a press release.

It stressed the need for transparency "considering the major impact on the environment" of this project.

The economy ministry declined to comment after the ruling.

Romania intends to build a second plant on top of its existing one in Cernavoda in the southeast in order to ensure energy independence.

In September, Pompiliu Budulan, the manager of the Nuclearelectrica company, said the site will be chosen in early 2010.

Three locations are currently under review, Alexandru Sandulescu, director of energy policy at the economy ministry told AFP then.

"The name of the location will not be made public immediately after the decision has been taken in order to prevent property speculation and protests" from environmental activists, he added.

Romania rejects bids at tender to sell 1-yr T-bills

BUCHAREST, Oct 26 (Reuters) - Romania's finance ministry rejected all bids at a tender to sell one-year treasury bills, central bank data showed, due to unacceptably high yield levels.

The finance ministry had planned to sell 1 billion lei.

At a previous tender to sell one-year bills on Oct. 19, the average accepted yield was set from 10 percent.

In recent months, it has scaled back issuance or rejected all bids at several tenders, signalling yields were too high.

Analysts warn the ministry could face strong upward yield pressure after the government collapse earlier this month, which has raised concerns over the country's ability to enforce reforms under its International Monetary Fund aid package.

But its funding needs could soar towards the end of the year, when spending jumps tend to occur, particularly as the ministry has postponed a planned Eurobond issue, initially seen in October, due to political uncertainty.

So far this year, Romania has sold a little under 58 billion lei in local debt issues, five times more than in 2008

Monday, October 26, 2009

Basescu Faces Tough Battle in Romania

(Angus Reid Global Monitor) - Many people would vote for Romanian president Traian Basescu in next month’s election but the ballot may need a second round, according to a poll by the National Institute for Public Opinion Studies and Marketing (INSOMAR) released by Realitatea TV. 33.4 per cent of respondents would support Basescu in the November election.

Mircea Geoana of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) is second with 28.5 per cent, followed by Crin Antonescu of the National Liberal Party (PNL) with 14.5 per cent, and Bucharest mayor Sorin Oprescu with 8.1 per cent. Support is lower for Corneliu Vadim Tudor of the Party of Great Romania (PRM), George Becali of the New Generation - Christian Democrat Party (PNG-CD), and Kelemen Hunor of the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR).

A run-off scenario places Geoana with a slim advantage over Basescu.

Basescu won the presidential run-off in December 2004 as the candidate of the Alliance for Justice and Truth (DA)—comprising the Democratic Party (PD) and the PNL—with 51.23 per cent of the vote.

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 Oct. 13, the Romanian government collapsed following a defeat in a confidence vote. Opposition parties rejected Boc’s government for proposing pension reforms aimed at securing funding from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This will not prevent the presidential election from happening.

On Oct. 22, Basescu announced that Romanians will vote next month in a referendum on switching the country’s legislative body from a bi-cameral entity to a unicameral parliament, declaring, "Yesterday, Romania’s Parliament did not approve the request I made for organizing a referendum simultaneously with the presidential election. Considering the fact that Parliament’s approval is consultative for the president as regards the organization of a referendum, I have made the decision to sign the decree on the referendum being organized simultaneously with the presidential election."

Romanians are called to elect a president on Nov. 22. 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
Mircea Geoana (PSD)
Crin Antonescu (PNL)
Sorin Oprescu (Ind.)
Corneliu Vadim Tudor (PRM)
George Becali (PNG-CD)
Kelemen Hunor (UDMR)

Source: National Institute for Public Opinion Studies and Marketing (INSOMAR) / Realitatea TV
Methodology: Interviews with 1,211 Romanian adults, conducted from Oct. 8 to Oct. 11, 2009. Margin of error is 2.9 per cent.

Romania president says current leu level "optimal"

BUCHAREST, Oct 25 (Reuters) - The Romanian leu's current level is "optimal" and Romania must ensure it continues to receive international aid to avoid currency weakness that would badly hurt households, President Traian Basescu said on Sunday.

The leu EURRON= has stabilized at around 4.29 to the euro, after dropping to near-seven month lows on the collapse of the centrist minority government earlier this month.

A prime minister replacement has been nominated, but his chances of securing parliamentary backing were slim ahead of a Nov.22 presidential election, prolonging political gridlock.

Economists have warned political instability could pose problems in meeting terms of the 20 billion euro aid package Romania won this year from the International Monetary Fund to stave off the financial crisis.

On Sunday, Basescu said IMF cash has boosted the central bank's reserves, calming market jitters and helping keep the leu in a "reasonable 4.2-4.3 limit" which must be maintained.

"If we were to let the exchange rate go to near 5 lei per euro, exports could rise, but we would hit the population sharply by hurting purchasing power," Basescu said in a speech on his campaign trail.

"This is why the current level is optimal, which ... at least is not impoverishing the population and allowing the industry ... to continue to export."

The IMF said it would start a second review of Romania's aid package on Oct. 28, relenting on previous plans to postpone the mission until a new government was formed. However, it warned a follow-up mission may be needed.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Presidential election campaign opens in Romania


BUCHAREST — The presidential election campaign started Friday in Romania, a country struggling with a severe recession and reeling from political turmoil after its government collapsed last week.

The first round of the presidential poll is set for November 22, and it will be the first election of a head of state since Romania's accession to the European Union in 2007.

Eight candidates have so far signed up for the race, with the deadline to register at midnight.

Two candidates are expected to be the major contenders: incumbent President Traian Basescu, supported by the governing Democratic liberal party (PDL), who was elected in December 2004, and the head of the Senate, Mircea Geoana, a former foreign minister and leader of the opposition Social Democrats (PSD).

The two have pledged to reform the economy and the public sector, but they have so far been mainly engaged in political quarreling.

Political analyst Cristian Parvulescu told AFP he expects the campaign to be "very harsh".

"Many files will emerge in attempts to compromise one candidate or another," he said, adding that he deplored the absence of key issues for the country in the current debates.

A major concern is the Romanian economy which is expected to shrink by 8.5 percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The other candidates are the head of the Liberal party Crin Antonescu, Bucharest's Mayor Sorin Oprescu, the owner of the Steaua Bucharest soccer club Gigi Becali, Hunor Kelemen for the Hungarian minority party and Vadim Tudor for the far-right.

Along with the presidential vote, Romania will also hold a national referendum on November 22 to decide if it should reduce the number of members of parliament from the current 471 to 300, in an unicameral legislature.

The referendum called by Basescu is strongly contested by the opposition, which has an absolute majority in parliament.

Parvulescu thinks the referendum will "garble the presidential campaign" and help the incumbent president as there is a "popular anti-parliament feeling" in Romania.

The country is in a political crisis after the collapse of the centre-right government of Prime Minister Emil Boc last week following a no-confidence vote.

Basescu has designated economist Lucian Croitoru as prime minister.

Parliamentary approval, which Croitoru is expected to seek on Monday, could be difficult as the three main opposition parties have an absolute majority and have repeatedly rejected his nomination.

Romania's Croitoru unveils cabinet lineup

By Radu Marinas

BUCHAREST, Oct 23 (Reuters) - Romania's designated Prime Minister Lucian Croitoru unveiled a cabinet lineup on Friday intended to reassure international lenders propping up the shaky economy, but he faced an uphill battle in parliament.

Romania's powerful opposition, united behind a different candidate, has made it clear it would not back the former central banker in his bid to become prime minister, in a tactical game ahead of a Nov. 22 presidential election.

Bucharest must convince an upcoming IMF mission starting Oct. 28 that it is able to put together a broad-based political commitment to approve a tight 2010 budget to stave off financial crisis and safeguard the recession-hit economy.

The Washington-based lender relented on Thursday on previous plans to postpone its mission until a new government was formed. However, the Fund said a follow-up visit may be needed once a new cabinet was in place. 

Pending the review, Bucharest is counting on disbursement of a third tranche, worth 1.5 billion euros ($2.25 billion), of an IMF-led financial package worth 20 billion euros.

'There will be complex, difficult negotiations with ... international financial institutions in which the prime minister together with the central bank will play a key role,' Croitoru, who has the backing of centrist president Traian Basescu, said.

His cabinet, backed by the ruling Democrat-Liberal party, aims to streamline and downsize the government to 14 from 19 posts.

It retains seven ministers from the outgoing cabinet of acting prime minister Emil Boc, ousted by parliament earlier this month.

The closely contested presidential vote, likely to go into a second round on December 6, pits the opposition groupings who control 65 percent of seats in parliament against Basescu, who nominated Croitoru last week.

Analysts said the IMF's decision to hold a review in October will help calm market jitters. But they said the lenient stance may undermine the resolve of politicians to enact unpopular cost-cutting measures.

US military base in Romania to become permanent


BUCHAREST, Romania — A U.S. army official in Romania says an American military base near the Black Sea port of Constanta will become a permanent facility in the spring and be jointly used with Romanian forces.

Lt. Col. Daniel Herrigstad says the U.S. government invested $48 million to modernize the base.

Herrigstad told the news agency Agerpres on Friday that the base would initially host up to 1,700 U.S. and Romanian soldiers.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden visited Romania on Thursday to discuss the new missile defense system, and thanked Romania's President Traian Basescu for "embracing" the new proposal.

It is unclear what role, if any, Romania will play in the revamped U.S. missile shield.

Romania Premier-Designate Croitoru Seeks Parliamentary Approval

By Irina Savu

Oct. 23 (Bloomberg) -- Romanian Prime Minister-designate Lucian Croitoru said he will seek parliamentary approval for his proposed Cabinet and has a “high chance” of success.

Croitoru, 52, named as premier on Oct. 13 following the collapse of Emil Boc’s administration, promised to implement economic reforms to meet the terms of Romania’s international bailout if he wins approval for his Cabinet of 14 ministers, he said today in Bucharest in a televised speech. Lawmakers must hold the vote within 15 days.

“I sent my program and the Cabinet list to parliament,” Croitoru said. “My government stands a high chance of winning approval because lawmakers will consider things from an economic and financial perspective not just from a political one.”

Croitoru, an economic adviser to Central Bank Governor Mugur Isarescu, failed on Oct. 20 to win support from the country’s opposition parties, which hold a parliamentary majority. The Social Democrats, the Liberals and ethnic Hungarians back their own candidate Klaus Johannis, 50, mayor of the Transylvanian town of Sibiu. Croitoru has so far secured the backing of Boc’s Liberal Democratic Party, which holds 171 seats in Parliament. He needs 236 votes to win parliamentary approval.


President Traian Basescu, who enjoys the support of the Liberal Democrats in his race for a new five-year term on Nov. 22, said he picked Croitoru because he was Romania’s representative at the International Monetary Fund and had experience dealing with international financial institutions.

The European Union’s second-poorest member is relying on a 20 billion-euro ($30 billion) bailout from the IMF and the EU to cover its budget and current-account gaps.

If Croitoru fails to win the confidence vote in parliament, Basescu must back a new candidate. The winner of the presidential vote next month can call parliamentary elections in December at the earliest, if a second confidence vote fails. By law, the president can’t dissolve parliament or call early general elections in the last six months of his term.

The Balkan country is trying to cut spending to meet a budget deficit target of 7.3 percent of gross domestic product this year. Measures will include sending all state workers on 10 days’ unpaid leave and firing some employees next year.

IMF Mandate

Romania must also pass a pension reform bill mandated by the IMF. The proposal aims to save an annual 0.5 percent of GDP in 2010 and as much as 2.1 percent in 2020.

Boc, who will stay in office with limited powers until the end of November unless a new government is formed earlier, had sought to effect wage and pension cuts to comply with the terms of the country’s bailout.

The government last month approved a wage bill, called for by the IMF, which led to protests by about 750,000 state workers. Trade unions have also threatened to start an open- ended strike from November and boycott elections if their demands for higher pay aren’t met.

The Romanian economy contracted 8.7 percent in the second quarter, the most on record, and the IMF forecasts an 8.5 percent contraction for all of this year.

To contact the reporter on this story: Irina Savu in Bucharest

IMF Mission to Visit Romania

A second IMF mission will review Romania’s progress in achieving benchmarks linked to a major aid package, from October 28 to November 9. The Fund's Romania mission chief, Jeffrey Franks, said on Thursday: “Due to ongoing political developments, a follow-up mission may be necessary to continue discussions after a new government has been formed.”

The mission will assess Romania's recent economic performance and discuss objectives for the coming year and the means to achieve them. Romania's incoming government must bring the budget deficit down to below 6 per cent of GDP in 2010. The IMF agreed in August to allow Bucharest to run a budget deficit for this year of 7.3 per cent of GDP.

The IMF loan is part of a multilateral package which will total up to 20 billion euros and is conditioned on the implementation of a comprehensive economic reform programme.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Progress, of a sort and at a price

Oct 15th 2009 | BUCHAREST

From The Economist print edition

Egos, not the stricken economy, are at the centre of Romanian politics

IT MAY have worked politically, but not on other fronts. Two weeks ago, Romania’s prime minister, Emil Boc, doomed his own government to collapse by ousting his interior minister, Dan Nica. The ostensible reason was that Mr Nica, who represents a junior partner in the coalition, had groundlessly alleged that a huge electoral fraud was being planned in the presidential election due on November 22nd. He did not name the supposed ballot-riggers. But this is a touchy issue. Romania’s president, Traian Basescu (a close ally of Mr Boc), won power in 2004 on the crest of an anti-corruption campaign. Since then some of his biggest supporters have become increasingly critical of his record.

Sacking Mr Nica was meant to force his Social Democratic party to quit the government, leaving a minority administration to be run by Mr Basescu’s supporters, the Liberal Democrats. That, cynics say, was meant to ensure that the interior ministry, which runs the election machinery, was in safe hands in the run-up to the poll. It may yet work. But the Social Democrats counter-attacked this week by ousting the government in Romania’s first successful no-confidence vote since the fall of communism. In one sense the vote, which took place on October 13th, was progress. Unlike in the 1990s the government’s removal did not involve miners rampaging violently through the streets of Bucharest.

The opposition parties, including Liberals and parties representing Hungarian and other ethnic minorities, make up two-thirds of parliament. They proposed their own, apolitical, candidate for prime minister, Klaus Johannis. An ethnic German, he has for the past nine years been the successful mayor of the Transylvanian town of Sibiu, one of the most attractive and best-run places in Romania.

That has boosted the credibility of the anti-Basescu camp, united only in their dislike of the president. But it has not so far dented the president’s popularity: he has a 13-point lead over his nearest rival in next month’s poll. This week Mr Basescu nominated Lucian Croitoru, a central-bank adviser, as prime minister. If parliament votes his nominee down, as seemed likely, the president can hang on and try again. He dismisses the opposition’s idea of a government of technocrats, saying that this belongs to the 1990s, and is just a cover for string-pulling politicians. For the moment, Mr Boc’s government remains in office as a caretaker administration.

Shenanigans around the conduct of the presidential election and uncertainty about the next government are distractions from Romania’s most pressing problems. The economy is forecast to shrink by around 8% this year. The IMF and European Union have bailed out the country to the tune of €20 billion ($30 billion). Romania has yet to implement the unpopular reforms that it agreed with the lenders. And it has also exasperated the EU by backsliding on promised improvements to the judiciary and legal system. Mr Basescu may have won the battle for his political survival for the time being. But he has not fulfilled his promises of modernising and cleaning up his country’s politics

IMF to begin second review of Romania loan deal

WASHINGTON/BUCHAREST, Oct 22 (Reuters) - The International Monetary Fund said on Thursday it will start a second review of Romania's aid package later this month, relenting on previous plans to postpone the mission until a new government was formed.

However, IMF mission chief for Romania Jeffrey Franks said that a follow-up mission may be needed due to 'ongoing political developments'.

'The mission will initiate discussions with authorities on the second review ... but a follow-up mission may be necessary to continue discussions after a new government has been formed,' Franks said in a statement.

'Successful completion of the second review will require a broad-based political commitment to approve a 2010 budget with a budget deficit no higher than 5.9 percent of GDP.'

Analysts welcomed the move, saying it will help calm local markets in the short-term, but said the Washington-based lender's flexibility posed risks to the budget deficit.

'The likelihood of expanding fiscal deficit is here to stay and the moral hazard of the Romanian politicians might increase as a result of IMF's leniency,' said Nicolaie Alexandru-Chidesciuc, chief economist at ING ( ING - news - people ) Bank Romania.

'This bodes ill for the economy looking forward and the IMF might find strong resistance from politicians in early 2010 when trying to impose harsh measures to correct imbalances.'

AP: Biden thanks Romania for its close ties with US

BUCHAREST, Romania — U.S. Vice President Joe Biden met with Romania’s leader on Thursday and thanked him for sending soldiers to Afghanistan and supporting a revamped U.S. missile shield being planned in Europe.

President Traian Basescu, Romania’s top official, did not comment on the new missile plan, and it was unclear what role, if any, Romania would play with it. But after meeting with Biden, Basescu — who is running for re-election in Romania on Nov. 22 — said the two countries remain close allies. “Nothing has changed in our relations,” he told a news conference with Biden.

Biden’s one-day visit to Bucharest was part of a swing through eastern Europe designed to reassure Poland, Romania and the Czech Republic — all staunch U.S. allies — that America’s commitment to the region remains strong.

Romania has an American military base at the Black Sea, and Basescu also enjoyed good relations with former President George W. Bush. The former communist country currently has 1,045 troops in Afghanistan, and Romania provided hundreds of soldiers for the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq for years before withdrawing them a few months ago.

“In Afghanistan, your forces are performing skillfully and in the toughest places, and toughest combat,” Biden said. “Your soldiers are warriors. Our troops are proud to stand next to Romanians because you … are incredibly competent.”

He also said, “I really appreciate your government’s embrace of the new missile defense architecture we are bringing into Europe. It is a better architecture. It has the benefit of protecting you physically, as well as the United States.”

The scrapped Bush-era project would have placed 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar base in the Czech Republic to intercept long-range missiles from Iran. The Obama plan would include SM-3 anti-ballistic missiles at a former air base in the Polish town of Redzikowo, the same site that was to host U.S. missile interceptors in underground silos under the Bush plan. During Biden’s visit to Poland on Wednesday, Premier Donald Tusk supported the revamped U.S. missile shield.

A senior Obama administration official traveling with Biden told reporters in Bucharest on Thursday that the new missile shield is “driven by the security needs of our allies. Clearly the new plan has nothing to do with Russia and it was never about Russia,” the official said on condition of anonymity, in keeping with his delegation’s regulations. Moscow perceives the new plan as less threatening than the earlier one because it would not initially involve interceptors capable of shooting down Russia’s intercontinental ballistic missiles, experts say.

Romania is not a close Russian ally, but Basescu told the news conference that “pragmatic relations are necessary with Russia and Turkey,” two regional powers, when it comes to issues such as defense.

After his meeting with Basescu at the Cotroceni presidential palace in Romania’s capital, Biden was to deliver a speech about regional security at Bucharest University.

Biden’s trip to eastern Europe also is designed to mark the progress the region has made since the end of communism 20 years ago.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Romanian Presidential Election May Need Run-Off

(Angus Reid Global Monitor) - No candidate running for next month’s presidential election in Romania appears to have enough votes to secure a victory in the first round, according to a poll by CURS. 32 per cent of respondents would vote for incumbent Traian Basescu in the upcoming ballot, down one point since August.

Mircea Geoana of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) is second with 24 per cent, followed by Crin Antonescu of the National Liberal Party (PNL) with 15 per cent, Bucharest mayor Sorin Oprescu with 13 per cent, Corneliu Vadim Tudor of the Party of Great Romania (PRM) with seven per cent, George Becali of the New Generation - Christian Democrat Party (PNG-CD) with five per cent, and Kelemen Hunor of the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR) with three per cent.

Basescu won the presidential run-off in December 2004 as the candidate of the Alliance for Justice and Truth (DA)—comprising the Democratic Party (PD) and the PNL—with 51.23 per cent of the vote.

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 Oct. 13, the Romanian government collapsed following a defeat in a confidence vote. Opposition parties rejected Boc’s government for proposing pension reforms aimed at securing funding from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

On Oct. 18, Basescu talked about his first term in office, saying, "I am dissatisfied with my first mandate. I am dissatisfied with what I failed to do. I wanted to do so much more, some things I did, others not, but in my soul I feel dissatisfaction."

Romanians are called to elect a president on Nov. 22. 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

If a presidential election were held next Sunday, who would you vote for?

Oct. 2009
Aug. 2009
Jun. 2009
Traian Basescu (PD-L)
Mircea Geoana (PSD)
Crin Antonescu (PNL)
Sorin Oprescu (Ind.)
Corneliu Vadim Tudor (PRM)
George Becali (PNG-CD)
Kelemen Hunor (UDMR)
Other candidate
Prince Radu Duda
Nati Meir
Source: CURS 
Methodology: Interviews to 1,500 Romanian voters, conducted from Sept. 25 to Oct. 7, 2009. Margin of error is 2.5 per cent.

Romania to Hold Benchmark Rate This Year, UniCredit’s Pal Says

By Zoltan Simon

Oct. 21 (Bloomberg) -- Romania’s central bank will probably keep its key rate at the European Union’s highest this year to protect the leu after the government collapsed, said Rozalia Pal, the chief economist of the local UniCredit SpA unit.

The Banca Nationala a Romaniei will hold the monetary policy rate at 8 percent, a 19-month low, Pal said in an interview in Dubrovnik, Croatia, today. The budget gap may overshoot the government’s target this year, threateningInternational Monetary Fund payouts in December, she added.

Prime Minister Emil Boc’s Cabinet collapsed this month ahead of presidential elections in November. The nation has to implement spending cuts to meet terms of a 20 billion-euro ($30 billion) international bailout. The government forecasts an economic decline of 8.5 percent this year after growth of 7.1 percent last year, which was the fastest pace in the EU.

“The leu is under great depreciation pressure in this period in part because of the political risk,” Pal said. The political uncertainty means there is a “great risk” that Romania will overshoot its target for a budget shortfall of 7.3 percent of gross domestic product, she added.

The leu traded at 4.2925 per euro at 2:01 p.m. in Bucharest from 4.2945 late yesterday. The benchmark BET stock index fell 0.8 percent to 4632.82.

The central bank will probably work to keep the leu near 4.3 per euro this year as a depreciating currency may boost inflation and threaten financial stability in a country reliant on foreign-currency loans, Pal said. She said the leu may strengthen to 4.2 by the end of 2010.


The annual inflation rate, which has been dropping since February, fell to 4.9 percent in September from 5 percent the previous month, missing the 4.8 percent median estimate of economists in a Bloomberg survey. Prices rose 0.4 percent on the month, increasing for the first time since June.

The central bank has lowered the benchmark rate five times this year, from 10.25 percent to the current 8 percent. There is a chance that policy makers may still decide to cut by a quarter-point this year, Pal said.

Romania froze state wages and pledged to cut spending to meet terms of the bailout from the IMF and the EU. The government collapsed after the Social Democrats quit the coalition to protest the dismissal of a minister.

President Traian Basescu appointed a prime minister who is trying to win opposition support for confirmation. Basescu himself is up for re-election on Nov. 22.

To contact the reporter on this story: Zoltan Simon in Budapest

Romania's Bloody Revolution: 20 Years Later

'A Mission of Honor': Key Players Recall Romania's Bloody Revolution

Oct. 21, 2009

The camera slowly pans across the faces of the executed, across the waxy face of the woman, surrounded by a trail of blood in the dust of the barrack yard, and across the face of her husband, his eyes wide open in the moment of death. Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena, their arms tied behind their backs, died on Dec. 25, 1989 in a hail of bullets from Kalashnikov machine guns.

The faces of the marksmen remain in the dark in the television images of the execution. In 1989, a year of sweeping change in Eastern Europe, the only chapter that ended with the death of a head of state was written by Romanian soldiers, and kept hidden from the public eye.

"Our mission was a suicide mission," says Dorin Carlan, which means it was top-secret, and the risks were enormous.

Carlan is one of three men from the 64th Paratroopers Regiment who carried out the death sentence against the Ceausescus. For a brief moment in history, he became a tool of the revolution. Today he ekes out a living as a legal advisor in the Romanian capital Bucharest. Carlan is a massive man with a melancholy gaze, and the events of 1989 still seem to weigh heavily on his shoulders.

During the last few seconds en route to the execution site -- a wall in the courtyard of the Tirgoviste barracks -- Carlan, a petty officer at the time, stood facing his commander-in-chief, the "Genius of the Carpathians," "Liberator of the Earth" and "favorite son of the Romanian people." As Carlan recounts today, "Ceausescu looked at me, broke out in tears and shouted: 'Death to the traitors! History will avenge us.' Then he sang the 'Internationale'. He and his wife were pushed up against the wall, and we fired. It had to be brought to an end."
A Mysterious Overthrow

Carlan served in an elite regiment which was supposed to provide personal protection for Ceausescu, the country's president and the general secretary of the Romanian Communist Party. After growing up as an orphan and later being raised as a Ceausescu loyalist, he still finds it difficult to talk about his action, as if trying to justify the breach of trust to himself. Carlan says: "We avenged the dead that Ceausescu had on his conscience. It was a mission of honor."

It has been 20 years since the end of the Romanian dictatorship, and yet the mission is still controversial. Was the execution of the Ceausescu truly a milestone along Romania's path to freedom? Or was it the original sin of the young democracy, as dissident and exile writer Paul Goma put it angrily, since "Ceausescu was stolen from those who suffered under his rule" as a result of the secret conviction and shooting.

The tribunal against the dictator, who ruled the country for almost a quarter century, was necessary to put a stop to the violence and anarchy in the streets, those who carry it out claim. But why did the overwhelming majority of the 1,104 Romanian dead during this tumultuous period die only after Ceausescu had fled from the capital? Who was shooting at whom, and who was giving the orders?

The figureheads and masterminds of the mysterious overthrow, which took place behind the Iron Curtain in 1989, are still alive today. One of them is poet Mircea Dinescu, who announced the news that the despot had been overthrown on a live television broadcast. He has since been sharply critical, on talk shows and in opinion pieces, of what he calls the failed revolution. Another is former President Ion Iliescu, who continues to wield power today as an eminence grise of the political class. And then there is Victor Stanculescu, a former virtuoso classical singer with the rank of a four-star general, who transformed himself from a confidant of the Ceausescus into a traitor in their eyes in December 1989, and is incarcerated today in the Bucharest-Rahova maximum-security prison.
Popular Revolt

What seems to be clear is that there was a popular revolt, supported by thousands and thousands of oppressed, freezing Romanians who also lacked food. There was also a small group of potential insurgents, veterans of the party, military and security organizations who had been thinking about overthrowing Ceausescu for a long time. Eventually, a time came when the two movements intersected and were briefly united. The result was a powerful wave of resistance that brought down the regime on Dec. 22, 1989.

For General Victor Stanculescu, that historic day began with a trick. Stanculescu, who was also deputy defense minister, asked a doctor he trusted to put a plaster cast on his left leg, which was completely healthy. Freshly returned from the front in Timisoara -- where protests against the Ceausescu regime had been brutally suppressed for days -- the dashing and clever general realized, earlier than other members of the party, military and intelligence leadership, that the regime could no longer be saved.

The resistance began in Timisoara, a major city in the western Romanian portion of the Central European Banat region, when Pastor Laszlo Tokes was told that he was to be reassigned. The eloquent and intrepid pastor, a member of the Hungarian minority, was a popular dissident who had vocally criticized the regime's ongoing human rights violations. He was a thorn in the side of a regime with a history of making people like Tokes disappear. On Dec. 16, 1989, the members of his congregation formed a human chain around Tokes's house in an attempt to prevent security forces from taking him away.

That was the beginning. Starting in Timisoara, the revolution began to spread throughout the country like a wildfire. The army and secret police units fired at their own people for days. Ceausescu underestimated the scope of the resistance. Even as bodies were lying in the streets, he traveled to Tehran on a state visit, leaving his wife Elena to run the country for two days.
Ceausescu Left in Dark

Back in Bucharest, the "Conducator," or "leader," decided that it was time to address the people from the balcony of the Central Committee building. The response was unheard of: boos and catcalls. The image of the Romanian leader wearing an Astrakhan fur hat, grimacing as he attempted to quell the protests, is part of the iconography of the Romanian revolution.

"The Securitate kept Ceausescu in the dark about the true situation in the country," says former General Stanculescu. Then he recounts what happened in those last few, dramatic hours, how he limped into the Central Committee building on the morning of Dec. 22, 1989, his leg in a cast, to discover that he had just been promoted to defense minister, replacing Vasile Milea, who had refused to order the army to shoot at the people and was found dead only minutes earlier. To this day, no one knows whether Milea was murdered or committed suicide.

More than 100,000 angry protestors had already gathered outside, on the square in front of the party headquarters building. Ceausescu stepped onto the balcony one last time, armed with a megaphone, but he was unable to make himself heard.

While the angry mob stormed the Central Committee building, pushing its way past heavily armed secret police, Stanculescu organized the escape of the dictator and his wife. He ordered a helicopter flown to the roof of the building. Accompanied by two politburo members and two bodyguards, the Ceausescus managed to save themselves. "Victor, please take care of our children," Elena Ceausescu called out to the new defense minister, according to eyewitnesses.
'The Dictator Has Fled'

Stanculescu denies this. The former general, now 81, is only willing to concede that Ceausescu's wife, known as "Office Number 2," had favored him as the army's representative at official events "because, unfortunately, I was more attractive than the others." At the trial in Tirgoviste, shortly before the court pronounced its death sentence, Elena Ceausescu recognized her mistake, and called out: "There is a traitor among us. He is known."

At the time, says Stanculescu, shrugging his shoulders, he had only one choice, "to be killed by the revolutionaries or the Ceausescus."

The general's decision to change sides and join the insurgents is one of the key moments of the revolution. In his position as the new defense minister, he secretly ordered the army to return to the barracks. Surrounded by the chaos of a leaderless country, he tried to remain calm, and after the Ceausescus, having briefly disappeared from the radar screen of the security agencies, he decided what was to happen to them. In the end, Stanculescu even personally selected the marksmen who would carry out the execution.

But at that point the Ceausescus still had three days to live. When the helicopter stopped at the Ceausescus' summer home in Snagov, Elena quickly packed jewels and bathrobes into their suitcases, while her husband was on the phone searching for places where they could go. At the pilot's suggestion the two boarded the helicopter again and -- Romania's airspace having been closed in the meantime -- after a short flight, were dropped off in an open field in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains. It was the beginning of a grotesque odyssey.
'You Are Now in the Hands of the Masses'

The aging Ceausescus spent the next few hours wandering through the scenery of a country they had shaped to satisfy their gruesome demands, but had never experienced from an ordinary perspective. Their first vehicle broke down, and a second vehicle took them to an agricultural technical institute in Tirgoviste, where they were taken into custody by a militia in the evening. "You are now in the hands of the masses," Ceausescu was told. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. "In whose hands?" he asked.

At that point, the "masses" were receiving their marching orders from Studio 4 in the Bucharest television center. Poet Mircea Dinescu had arrived there at about 1 p.m. and, after being introduced as "our hero," was put in front of a microphone. In the midst of the chaos, he managed to express the inconceivable in words: "The army is with us. The dictator has fled. God has turned his face to the Romanians once again. We have won."

We? In this hour of triumph, Dinescu still had no idea who else had joined him and occupied the headquarters of the state-owned broadcaster. He was overjoyed to have an audience once again, after months of house arrest. Dinescu, the gifted lyricist and probably the most eloquent rebel of the Ceausescu era, had hurled angry verses at the wall of silence in the name of the people: "I will break open the wall with a pickaxe and let you look in."

That afternoon, Dinescu found himself surrounded by a colorful mix of people. In addition to a few declared regime opponents, there were generals in full regalia and senior members of the Communist Party in the building. In the midst of it all was Ion Iliescu, who was once Ceausescu's crown prince and had subsequently fallen out of favor. Now, 18 years after being marginalized, he seized his opportunity.

Many of his colleagues who gradually began to arrive at Studio 4 and soon formed the core of the National Salvation Front, were old acquaintances. There was Silviu Brucan, the party ideologue of the last Stalin years and later Romania's ambassador to the United States and the United Nations, whom Ceausescu had eventually placed under house arrest. There was General Nicolae Militaru, who is believed to have conspired against Ceausescu in the 1970s. And there was General Stanculescu, who was constantly in contact with the group by telephone.

Was this a team of clever contemporaries who had happened to be "at the train station" when the revolutionary train arrived, as the crafty Brucan would later say? Or was it a small group of conspirators loyal to Moscow, for whom Brucan, as he claimed, had received the Kremlin's blessing to overthrow Ceausescu in 1988?
A Collapse of the System

Nowadays Iliescu would no longer mention "the noble goals of communism" that Ceausescu had allegedly betrayed. After 1989, Iliescu served two and half nonconsecutive terms as president of Romania. During that time, he ordered security forces to brutally suppress protesting mine workers, but also steered his country on a course to NATO and the European Union. Today, he is almost 80 years old, and he is at peace with himself. He arrives at our meeting surrounded by bodyguards and assistants.

The constant talk of a coup d'etat is nonsense, says Iliescu. The popular uprising was a reaction to a dictatorship in which no one could speak his mind, he says. "It was the collapse of the system." He, Iliescu, slid into the situation at the last minute, "with my moral authority, which I had acquired in 18 years as Ceausescu's opponent."

Only a few hours after arriving at the television station, Iliescu told millions of viewers nationwide that a group calling itself the National Salvation Front had assumed power, and that he was its leader. There are various theories as to what happened under the command of the National Salvation Front in the days leading up to the execution of the Ceausescus.

One thing is clear: More than 900 people died throughout the country.

They died in Bucharest, Sibiu, Brasov and Timisoara. They died as a result of shots from nine-millimeter Stechkin pistols -- the kind used only by special units of the Securitate secret police -- but also as a result of bullets from other guns, sniper fire and Kalashnikov salvos. Weapons were distributed to civilians, members of the secret police were spotted in army uniforms and foreign mercenaries working for the Securitate. There were reports of 4,000 Russians in the country, says Stanculescu, "supposedly tourists, always four men in a car, as if they were on their way to a gay wedding."

"We have no proof that such things happened. Intelligence services are always nearby when there is a revolution," says Iliescu, who became Romania's first democratically elected president in 1990. He admits that the widespread chaos in December 1989 was aggravated by made-up reports from the television headquarters controlled by the National Salvation Front leaders -- reports that the drinking water had been poisoned, the army was on its last legs and unknown "terrorists" were in the pay of the counter-revolution.
Creating a 'Reason to Kill Ceausescu'

"Tensions were stirred up at the time to create reason to kill Ceausescu," says former General Stanculescu. By whom? "You'd have to ask Iliescu."

The implied accusation that Stanculescu makes 20 years later leads to the core question of the revolution. If the "terrorists" were invented or controlled by the Front leaders, the show trial of Ceausescu was unnecessary and the deaths of hundreds of innocent people were crimes for which the leaders of the coup should be held accountable.

Who were the "terrorists?" Ion Iliescu doesn't miss a beat. "They existed within the Securitate, the army and the special forces," he says, smiling the wise, unflinching smile that earned him the nickname "little grandmother." "Why should we have had to provoke these people? It wasn't necessary. It was the will of the people to get rid of the Ceausescus." General Stanculescu handled the details of the trial and execution. He says he wanted to be informed by the Front leadership as soon as they had agreed on how to proceed against Ceausescu's using his direct telephone line, extension 262. A code word had been arranged for the final preparations: "Apply the measure."

Stanculescu received the call to proceed on Dec. 24, 1989.

The next day military judges, prosecutors and attorneys were flown in helicopters, under a shroud of secrecy, to the barracks in Tirgoviste, where the Ceausescus had been held for the last three days. In addition to representatives of the National Salvation Front, which now ruled the country, General Stanculescu and Carlan, one of the three executioners, were also on board the helicopters.

"We flew at about 200 kilometers per hour, and only 10 to 30 meters above the ground, to avoid the radar," says Carlan. "After we had landed, Stanculescu mustered us in the barrack yard and asked: Do you know who is here? The Ceausescus. There will be an extraordinary military trial. If the verdict is the death penalty, which of you will be able to execute it?
'30 Shots'

All eight paratroopers assembled in the barrack yard volunteered. Stanculescu picked three men, calling them "thoroughbreds." "Thirty shots," he told the men. "Automatic fire."

The two bodies were wrapped in tarpaulins, flown to Bucharest by helicopter and buried separately at a cemetery in the city's Ghencea neighborhood. But the executions did nothing to dispel rumors about the secret show trial, the new rulers' true objectives and the "betrayed" revolution.

The key players in those December days in 1989, people whose lives intersected at a historic moment, would soon embark on separate paths in the new Romania.

Dinescu, the poet, established satirical magazines and was moderately successful in his campaign to expose the Securitate files. Speaking matter-of-factly, he likens his efforts to the act of stirring "a vat of hot tar with a toothpick." Today he runs a winery on 100 hectares along the banks of the Danube in the Wallachia region. He has sorted out the debris of his revolutionary dreams. Politics in Romania, he scoffs, is in the hands of "semi-illiterate people." "The slaves of days gone by have become the masters."

General Stanculescu became a businessman after 1989 and was eventually sentenced to 15 years in prison for "manslaughter in a particularly serious case," during the deployment of the army in Timisoara. The press attacked him and his wife committed suicide. During an interview in September, Stanculescu reflected back on the historical events, saying: "It was a crazy time. I have no regrets."

Dorin Carlan continues to fight, unsuccessfully, to be appointed state secretary for revolutionary matters -- a recognition for his contribution to the overthrow that he believes is only fair.

"I was the executioner," says Carlan, "and the trial was a farce. But the verdict had been pronounced, and it had to be carried out. I was one who carried it out."

ABC News Internet Ventures

Biden arrives in Romania on east European tour


BUCHAREST — US Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Romania Wednesday after a one-day visit to Warsaw where he secured Poland's approval for a new US anti-missile system.

Biden's plane touched down at Bucharest airport at 8:30 pm (173O GMT), according to an AFP photographer.

Bucharest is the second leg of a three-nation east European tour also including the Czech Republic, aimed at reaffirming the US partnership with the countries in the region.

The trip comes a month after Washington shelved a Bush-era missile shield, prompting Czech and Polish media to accuse President Barack Obama of "treachery" and selling out to Moscow.

Romanian President Traian Basescu said Biden would "make a particularly important speech on Washington's policies in the region," without specifying and refused to spell out the agenda for their talks on Thursday.

He said on state television that they would discuss "subjects which are of great interest for Romania."

US officials denied however Biden was on a mission to pacify US partners upset over the decision to ditch the shield.

The Bush administration said the shield was designed to ward off potential attacks by so-called "rogue" states, namely Iran, but Russia slammed it as a threat to its national security.

But Obama said that after a rethink, and the realisation that Iran was developing its own missiles more slowly than anticipated, his administration was opting for a more flexible system.

Romania, which was not covered by the first antimissile defense system, welcomed the new plan.

"The new system protects the whole of the Romanian territory against possible missile attacks and this is very important," Bogdan Aurescu, a Romanian foreign ministry official, said.

In Bucharest, Biden is due on Thursday to meet Basescu and Prime Minister Emil Boc before delivering a key speech on relations between the US and central Europe.

Biden will leave Bucharest on Thursday evening heading for Prague.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Dispute emerges over Romania's next PM

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romania's caretaker government remains deeply divided about who should lead the country.

Last week, Prime Minister Emil Boc's government fell in a no-confidence vote, and he now serves as a caretaker leader over a government supported by President Traian Basescu but not Parliament.

A loose coalition of three political parties wants Klaus Johannis, the mayor of the central city of Sibiu, to be Romania's next prime minister. But Basescu has nominated Lucian Croitoru, an adviser to the central bank governor.

On Wednesday, lawmakers from three political parties voted 252-2 to support their Johannis nomination. But Parliament is scheduled to vote on the Croitoru nomination next week. If he loses, it is up to Basescu to decide whether to allow a vote on Johannis.

Whatever happens, Romania will elect a new president on Nov. 22, and that official could dissolve Parliament if it fails in two votes to elect a new prime minister.

Romania opposition closes ranks against PM designate

BUCHAREST, Oct 20 (Reuters) - Romanian opposition parties on Tuesday refused to back respected central banker Lucian Croitoru in his bid to become prime minister, extending a political deadlock that threatens to damage Bucharest's access to IMF aid.

Croitoru, designated by the president last Thursday, has until the end of the week to form a cabinet and secure parliamentary backing, but it appears all but impossible with the opposition united behind a different candidate.

If he fails, Romania's president will have to nominate a candidate again. This will scupper any chances for a stable cabinet in coming weeks and add to concerns Romania may run out of time to meet aid terms for the next tranche of International Monetary Fund cash.

'He (Croitoru) is in an embarassing situation,' Ludovic Orban, a leader of the opposition Liberal Party, said after Croitoru's first official talks with the opposition.

Commentators say the wrangling over who replaces the cabinet of Prime Minister Emil Boc, ousted by parliament earlier this month, is part of a tactical game played all major groupings ahead of the Nov. 22 presidential election.

The closely-contested vote, likely to go into a second round on Dec. 6, pits the opposition groupings who control 65 percent of seats in parliament against centrist incumbent Traian Basescu, a close ally of Boc.

Basescu's ratings have slipped in recent months, bringing him virtually neck-and-neck with the runner-up, leader of the opposition Social Democrats, Mircea Geoana.

While praising Croitoru's economic skills, opposition groupings say they prefer provincial city mayor Klaus Johannis to form the next cabinet, saying he has better managerial skills.

Croitoru, now a policy adviser to central bank governor, was a member of Romania's team that negotiated the 20 billion euro aid package from the IMF and the European Union.

An ethnic German, Johannis has won praise for major restoration works in Sibiu, a medieval city in Transylvania, that earned it the title of European Capital of Culture in 2007.

'With all respect for his professional skills ... I suggested to him (Croitoru) not to enter this political game which is not good for him,' Geoana said. 'The only honourable thing he can do is to quit.'

Since his nomination, Croitoru has remained defiant, saying he would use the full 10 days given to him under Romanian law tro try and form a cabinet.

'I remain open for further negotiations,' he said.