Monday, November 30, 2009

Prison drama an escape for Romanian inmates

By Anca Teodorescu (AFP) – 2 days ago

BUCHAREST — Men convicted of murder, drug trafficking and robbery lined up on the stage of the prestigious Bucharest theatre to be given a standing ovation.

No matter that the audience included 50 prison warders, just in case. The first drama festival for Romanian convicts has been hailed as a success, especially by inmates given a taste of freedom from jails across the country so they can show a more human side.

"I had never been to a theatre before I went to prison and now here I am playing at a huge theatre," said an emotional Norbert Antal, one of 80 inmates allowed out for the two day Exit festival this week.

Antal and six other prisoners from the Timisoara penitentiary in western Romania put on a play about the narcotics trade at the Nottara theatre, which was written by another former prisoner.

"This play talks about our lives. We want young people to be aware of the dangers of drug," said Claudius Satran, 32, who has been in jail for eight years for international narcotics trafficking. He plays the role of a drug addict.

"If this leads just one person not to make the same mistake that we did, then it has all been worth it," said Alexandru Brandusoiu, a 42-year-old also serving time for drug trafficking, who played the role of a policeman.

The play received a prolonged standing applause from the 400 strong audience -- with the 50 warders in civilian outfits to help the actors forget the return journey awaiting them.

Ten works were put on during the Exit festival which was organised by the ART Fusion, a non-government group, and the prisons department.

"It is very important for their self-confidence to discover their abilities, valorise themselves and discover some artistic beauty," prisons service spokeswoman Johanna Popescu told AFP.

After the Timisoara troupe, inmates from Baia Mare were waiting in the wings to put on their play inspired by the theatre of the absurd.

"I never thought that I would ever do theatre, and especially not at the Nottara," said Mihai Dobai, a 22-year-old, in jail for the past 12 months for robbery.

"It has changed my ideas. Before I used to dream of escaping with alcohol but in doing this play I now know that life can be different."

Zoltan Kocze, 40, who has already been in jail for 13-year for murder, was amazed at the support given by the prison staff.

"Theatre has taught me to control myself, which is important because that is why we are in prison. We just can't control ourselves," he said.

"I was once a very difficult man. Thanks to the theatre, I have understood all my errors."

The prison thespians from Iasi, a jail in the northeast of the country, say that inmatest should be given more respect.

"All inmates are human beings," declared, Razvan Zota, 25, who said he was sacked from his job when his boss found out that he had served time in jail.

"It destroys your confidence. But now I feel like a new man. Theatre has taught me to be more social, I have more courage dealing with people," he said.

Director Florin Dumitrescu Carcala is proud of his work with the prison actors and said many call him to tell of their rehabilitation when they eventually leave jail.

"These are changes to their life. I did not produce them but I feel that as a director I made a contribution," he said.

Moldovan Government Switches To 'Romanian' Language On Websites

November 28, 2009

CHISINAU -- In a sign of growing rapprochement with neighboring EU-member Romania, Moldova's government has changed the language signs on all of its websites from "Moldovan" (MD) to "Romanian" (RO), RFE/RL's Moldovan Service reports.

The Moldovan Constitution states that the official language of the country is "Moldovan," although most linguists say the language spoken in Moldova does not differ enough Romanian to be considered a different language.

The new pro-Western government has said it will try to amend the constitution in the future to remove the "Moldovan language" concept.

The term "Moldovan language" was coined by the Soviets after they annexed what is now Moldova from Romania at the beginning of World War II.

They also imposed use of the cyrillic alphabet in the new Soviet republic, to differentiate it even more from the Latin-writing Romania.

Romanian President Traian Basescu has said that Moldovan leaders from previous governments have requested a translator during official meetings with their Romanian counterparts, despite speaking essentially the same language.



Friday, November 27, 2009

Herta Müller 'has a psychosis', claims Romanian agent who spied on her



Former head of Securitate claims Nobel prize-winning author 'has no contact with external reality'

Kate Connolly in Berlin
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 26 November 2009


A former member of the Romanian secret police has launched a blistering attack on the Nobel prize winning writer Herta Müller.

Radu Tinu, who has admitted to spying on Müller as head of the secret police (or Securitate) in the Romanian city of Timisoara, where the Romanian-born German-speaking writer lived until 1987, told a newspaper she was suffering from mental delusion. "She has a psychosis, and has no contact with external reality," Tinu, formerly known as Major Tinu, told the Bucharest daily Adevarul this week. "She wasn't interrogated nearly as often as she has claimed."

Tinu admitted in the interview to having installed a bugging system in Müller's Timisoara home, but said it was a "one-off" incident, and was not, as Müller has claimed, a repeated event.

In his attack, Tinu – who after the fall of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu stood accused of repressing opposition figures and spent 700 days in detention awaiting trial before being released without charge – also sought to undermine Müller's claim that she was dismissed from her job as a teacher because of her refusal to work with the Securitate, saying it was instead "because she smoked in the classroom".

Müller, who has talked repeatedly about her treatment at the hands of the Securitate – which she refers to as the "abstract monster" of the Ceausescu regime – has yet to react to the accusations. But in an essay "The Securitate is Still in Service," which attracted widespread attention when it was published recently in Die Zeit, she detailed how the Securitate terrorised her over years. In the same essay, she also wrote that despite the end of the Ceaucescu regime, following his execution on Christmas day, 1989, it remains largely intact, with agents still operating at home and abroad, mainly under the guise of the post-communist secret services, the SRI, or Romanian Information Service.

She described how agents or "securists" bugged her house, hounded her from her job, turned friends against her, interrogated her, threatened to kill her and even continued to follow her once she had left Romania – incidents that are dealt with in detail in her novels. "According to their own figures, 40% of the staff [of the SRI] was taken on from the Securitate ... the rest are retired ... or the architects of the market economy," she wrote.

Müller also detailed the "psychological terror" she endured over years. "The secret service came and went as it liked when we weren't at home. Often they left deliberate signs that they'd been there such as planting cigarette butts, taking pictures off the wall, turning chairs upside down. The creepiest thing was stretched over weeks, when a fox fur that was on the floor was bit by bit taken apart – the tail, the feet and finally the head was cut off," she wrote.

Much of her maltreatment is documented in her Securitate file, which runs to 914 pages.

Tinu, who is now the Timisoara branch manager of the Romanian insurance company Asirom, claimed that Müller was "treated with kid gloves", because she was "surrounded by German secret service", and for the sake of diplomatic relations with Germany it was considered too great a risk to handle her otherwise.

Tinu's attack is the latest in a wave of hostile reactions towards Müller in her native Romania since the announcement last month that the writer had secured the world's top literary prize. While she has been celebrated in her adopted Germany (she emigrated in 1987 and is now living in Berlin), Müller's achievement has attracted mixed reactions in her homeland, including accusations that she has deliberately sought to denigrate Romania.

In one outspoken attack, Cristian Tudor Popescu, one of Romania's most prominent journalists, said Müller's reputation was based purely on her ability to attack the Ceausescu regime, rather than on any literary merit. "When she got the prize she spoke about the dictatorship, but not about literature, as if she were Nelson Mandela. The Nobel Peace prize would have suited her better," he said.

But Beatrice Unger, editor of the Sibiu weekly Hermannstadter Zeitung, said accusations that Müller had "profited" from the Ceausescu regime were driven by envy over her success."The only people to profit from the regime were Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu. Herta Müller? Only in so much as she was able to leave the country at a time when others could only dream of a passport. These attacks are driven by envy," she said.

Müller's latest novel, Atemschaukel, is due to be published in the UK next year as Everything I Possess I Carry With Me. She was praised by the Nobel prize committee for depicting "the landscape of the dispossessed", with the "concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose".

Romania Sells 1.4 Billion Euros in 1-Year Treasuries


By Irina Savu

Nov. 26 (Bloomberg) -- Romania raised 1.4 billion euros ($2.1 billion) in Treasury bills on the domestic market in the third sale this year to fund a widening budget deficit, the central bank said.

Banks bid for more than the 500 million euros initially planned in the sale of the 4.25 percent bills due Nov. 29, 2010, the Bucharest-based Banca Nationala a Romaniei said in an e- mailed statement today. The bid-to-cover-ratio, which gauges demand by comparing the number of bids to the amount of securities sold, was 1.26.

Romania has turned to the domestic market for funding as the recession swells the budget deficit to an estimated 7.3 percent of gross domestic product this year from an earlier forecast of 4.6 percent. A government collapse in October prompted the International Monetary Fund and the European Commission to delay payments on a 20 billion-euro international package of loans.

“The amount attracted is a bit above expectations; still even after today’s deal the finance ministry has to attract before year-end additional 2.5 billion to 3.5 billion euros to finance the budget gap,” Nicolaie Alexandru-Chidesciuc, the chief economist at ING Bank Romania SA, said in an e-mail after the sale. “The upward pressure on local currency yields is here to stay.”

Yield Pressures

Political instability in the country has also prompted investors to demand higher yields than the administration is willing to pay for leu-denominated treasuries. The finance ministry sold only 909 million lei ($320 million) in bills and bonds in November, less than the 6 billion lei initially planned, as investors demanded yields higher than the 10 percent it was willing to pay. The government has already sold 1.24 billion euros in three- and four-year 5.25 percent bonds in August and early November to cover its financing needs.

“We expected a lower yield versus the previous actions -- we said around 4 percent -- given that the tenor is just one year,” Chidesciuc also said.

The yield on the benchmark international sovereign debt due June 2018 was little changed at 6.346 percent, while the Romanian leu weakened 0.5 percent to 4.28212 per euro as of 4:08 p.m. in Bucharest, according to Bloomberg data.

Romania also postponed until next year a planned sale of as much as 1.5 billion euros in bonds abroad, Deputy Finance Minister Bogdan Dragoi said on Nov. 12.

The European Union’s second-poorest member nation is now run by an interim government with limited powers after Prime Minister Emil Boc’s Cabinet lost a no-confidence vote on Oct. 13. Romanian voters will elect a president in a Dec. 6 election that will determine who selects the next government to pull the nation out of a recession. Incumbent president Traian Basescu will face opposition leader Mircea Geoana in the run-off next month.

To contact the reporter on this story: Irina Savu in Bucharestisavu@bloomberg.net.

Romania 10-mo budget deficit flat at 5.1 pct/GDP

BUCHAREST, Nov 26 (Reuters) - Romania's consolidated budget deficit was 5.1 percent of gross domestic product in the first 10 months of the year, unchanged from a month ago, finance ministry data showed on Thursday. 

Earlier this month, outgoing Finance Minister Gheorghe Pogea said the shortfall had inched up to 5.2 percent of GDP, citing better revenue collection and less spending on goods and services.


Under Romania's 20 billion euro aid package from the International Monetary Fund and other lenders, the European Union targets a deficit of 7.3 percent of GDP in December.
However, Romania tends to see budget spending soar in the last two months of the year, boosted by local administrations, a risk magnified in 2009 by a two-round presidential election with a run-off scheduled for Dec. 6.


The IMF, which has delayed loan tranches pending the resolution of government turmoil that culminated with the collapse of a centrist cabinet in October, has said it expected Romania to overshoot its deficit target due to insufficient measures to curb spending.
A key condition for payments to resume is the passing of a credible budget plan for 2010 that envisions a gap of 5.9 percent, which analysts have said could prove a daunting task for the next cabinet to be set in place after the presidential ballot.


In nominal terms, the deficit reached roughly 25.5 billion lei ($9.03 billion). Ten-month revenues were 131 billion lei, or 26.3 percent of GDP, while spending reached 156.6 billion lei.

Embassy Row-Mircea Geoana

The Washington Times
Friday, November 27, 2009
Embassy Row

James Morrison

FACE-OFF

The next president of Romania could be a very familiar face in Washington.

Mircea Geoana, ambassador to the United States during the 1990s, is currently locked in a tight political fight for the presidency in a Dec. 6 runoff election. The leader of Romania's Social Democratic Party stands an even chance of unseating the current president, conservative Traian Basescu. Mr. Geoana won 31.16 percent of the vote in Sunday's first round of voting, while Mr. Basescu got 32.43 percent.

Mr. Geoana rose swiftly through the ranks of Romanian politics from his service as a fresh-faced young diplomat who arrived in Washington in 1996 at the age of 37. At the time, he was Romania's youngest ambassador, representing a reborn country that had struggled to cast off a brutal communist dictatorship just over six years earlier.

He served as ambassador until 2000, when he was appointed foreign minister. He continued to travel to Washington for top-level meetings or news conferences at the National Press Club, still retaining his high profile in the U.S. capital. By 2007, Mr. Geoana was a member of the Romanian Senate and chairman of its prestigious Foreign Relations Committee.

Mr. Geoana came to Washington to replace Ambassador Mihai Botez, who died in July 1995 on a home visit to Romania. He arrived in Washington in January 1996 and immediately began campaigning to raise Romania's profile from that of a backward nation under the communist dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu.

By March, the ambassador was concluding a deal for a new nuclear power plant with U.S., Canadian, German and Italian investors.

"It will be the first Western-styled nuclear reactor in Central-Eastern Europe," he said at the time.

Although he is now an outspoken socialist, Mr. Geoana was a strong advocate of free-market capitalism as ambassador. He boasted about a new Romania stock exchange, saying, "We are re-entering the capital market after 60 years."

By June, Mr. Geoana was helping plan a visit to Romania for Hillary Rodham Clinton, then first lady.

"She is first lady of the first nation on the planet," he told Embassy Row at the time.

Throughout his years in Washington, Mr. Geoana kept lobbying for Romania's inclusion in NATO in what would be a rollicking lottery of former communist nations competing for membership in the first expansion of the Western alliance since the fall of the Berlin Wall. That goal would elude Romania until 2004.

As foreign minister, Mr. Geoana continued to promote ties with the United States, endorsing the war against Iraq's Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Mr. Geoana turned against free markets, as he drifted toward socialism after becoming disenchanted with what he saw as a failure of capitalism to improve the lives of Romanians.

Last year, he told the Associated Press in Bucharest that Romania needed a new revolution.

"We are talking about a revolution into how the Romanian modern state should operate," he said.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Romania embarks on fifth attempt to sell Avioane Craiova

janes.com


Romania will try for a fifth time to sell a majority stake in the loss-making state-owned military aerospace firm Avioane Craiova, it emerged on 25 November.

The Romanian Ministry of Economy's Office of State Ownership and Privatisation in Industry formally asked potential investors to submit expressions of interest in the acquisition of an 80.9 per cent stake in the firm, which is the sole producer of military aircraft in the country.

The move comes after attempts to sell Avioane Craiova on two separate occasions - to Alenia Aeronautica and Aero Vodochody - floundered during the past year.

Responsibility for Avioane Craiova was shifted to the Ministry of Economy in October this year following the apparent failure of Romania's Authority of State Assets Recovery (AVAS) to dispose of the company.

AVAS attributed the collapse of the negotiations with Alenia to that company's concerns over Avioane Craiova's historical debts, which were estimated at EUR18 million (USD26.9 million) as of July this year.

Authors dispel myths about Romania


Thursday, Nov. 26, 2009

State senator, former news reporter focus on former communist nation
by Dennis Carter | Special to The Gazette


While world leaders commemorate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall this month, authors Sen. Jim C. Rosapepe (D-Dist. 21) and wife Sheilah Kast want to counter misconceptions about former eastern bloc state Romania and remind Americans that Dracula is, in fact, dead.

Rosapepe, who was elected to the state senate in 2006, and Kast, a former ABC News correspondent who hosts the local radio show "Maryland Morning," released "Dracula is Dead: How Romanians Survived Communism, Ended It, and Emerged Since 1989 as the New Italy" Nov. 9.

The book is available at Amazon.com and autographed copies can be purchased from the book's Web site, www.DraculaIsDead.com.

The College Park couple based the book around Rosapepe's service as ambassador to Romania from 1998-2001, supplementing their firsthand experience with deep historical background aimed at creating a clear picture of Romania before, during and after the Soviet Union's fall.

Kast said the book title drew from the shallow pool of facts many Americans have about Romania, home to Transylvania — the central hideout for a dreaded horror movie icon.

"Dracula is one of the few things Americans think they know about Romania," said Rosapepe, who added that the couple has worked on their book since returning from Rosapepe's ambassadorship eight years ago. "We think a lot of the negative perceptions Americans have had of Romania are dead. They are myths, just like Dracula is a myth."

The couple hopes to debunk the perception of Romania as a virulently anti-American eastern European nation after decades of isolation behind the Iron Curtain. Romanian polls show that Romanians are the most pro-American people in all of Eastern Europe, Rosapepe said. In fact, "Dracula is Dead" documents the Romanian hope that Americans would save the country from communism as late as the 1970s.

"What was always surprising to me was the intensity and breadth of the pro-American sentiment," Rosapepe said of his time as ambassador.

Kast and Rosapepe present Romanians as hard-working people who don't follow typical Western office hours but instead stay committed until well after the sun disappears.

"They don't tend to start work real early in the morning," Kast said, "but you'll always see people working until late at night."

"Dracula is Dead" tracks evolutions in Romanian culture since the Berlin Wall crumbled in 1989. The tradition of men kissing women's hands as a greeting, Kast said, has dissipated as popular Western culture melds with local customs.

"[Hand-kissing] is extremely charming," she said. "It's not yet faded ... but I can't imagine a generation from now that it will still be done."

The proliferation of higher education under communism created a Romanian culture that encouraged widespread pursuit of postsecondary degrees. Rosapepe saw this firsthand when a college applicant working as a waitress in Bucharest quoted Aristotle in casual conversation.

"The culture in Romania is much more supportive of education than it is in the U.S.," he said. "And that certainly had a huge impact on me."

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

FT: Romania president suffers poll blow

By Thomas Escritt in Bucharest

Traian Basescu, the president of Romania, suffered a heavy blow yesterday in his bid for re-election when the third-placed candidate eliminated in the first round of voting endorsed his rival.

Romania has been at a political standstill since the collapse of the government last month, blocking its access to financial aid.

The agreement reached by the two former rivals makes it more likely a new government can be formed this year, and reduces the risk of early elections.

With almost all votes counted, Mr Basescu, candidate of the centre-right Democrat Liberals, was in the lead with 32.7 per cent of the vote, while Mircea Geoana, his Social Democrat rival, was on 30.1 per cent.

Crin Antonescu, the candidate of the National Liberals, was eliminated from the race after coming third with 20.3 per cent, meaning the votes of his supporters, who tend to be younger urban professionals, will be crucial to deciding the winner in the final round, to be held in two weeks.

Romania's presidency has only a limited policy role, but Mr Basescu's power to nominate prime ministers and authorise prosecutions of ministers, together with his charisma, has made him a formidable counterweight to successive governments.

Labelling Mr Basescu a "demagogue and a populist", Mr Antonescu said he would back Mr Geoana if he agreed to support Klaus Johannis, the ethnic German mayor of the Transylvanian city of Sibiu, as prime minister. Mr Geoana accepted the condition, although their parties have yet to ratify the deal.

Twenty Years After Revolution Romania Grapples with Future

Alan Elsner




Romania is gearing up to remember next month's 20th anniversary of the violent revolution that overthrew the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in which some 1,300 people lost their lives. Celebrations and memorials are planned - though some Romanians still feel ambivalent about the 90-minute show trial of Ceausescu and his wife Elena on Christmas Day, 1989, which was followed immediately by their execution by firing squad.

Ironically, Romania finds now itself in the middle of a crucial presidential election still colored by the deep shadows of the past. It remains one of Europe's poorest countries and has been hit especially hard by the global recession.

In last Sunday's voting, incumbent Traian Basescu of the centrist Democrats won almost 33 percent of the vote. He'll face off in a run-off on December 6 against Mircea Geoana of the Social Democrats, the heirs of the Communist Party, who won around 30 percent. A third candidate, Crin Antonescu, took around 20 percent, and has thrown his support to Geoana. Polls suggest a close finish with Geoana possibly holding a narrow advantage.

In many ways, Romania emerged from the revolution the least prepared of any country in Eastern Europe to face a non-communist future. Its economy was in ruins, its people half-starving. Unlike Poland, which had Solidarity, or Czechoslovakia, where Vaclav Havel was the natural choice for president, Romania had no dissident movement to provide its new leaders. Ceausescu had ruthlessly crushed any and every sign of dissent. The Securitate secret police were ubiquitous, monitoring every citizen's movements, associations, telephone conversations and activities. It's been said that one in every four Romanians was collaborating with the Securitate in one way or another.

After several days of bloody street fighting, so-called "moderate" communists led by Ion Iliescu managed to exert authority over the country. Iliescu duly won almost 90 percent in the first post-communist election in May 1990. Former communists stayed in control for all but four years until 2004, slowing economic reforms, keeping the lid on attempts to investigate the crimes of the past and allowing rampant corruption to emerge as the country's biggest problem. Indeed, today corruption permeates almost every aspect of daily life, from visiting the doctor to winning prized slots in medical or law schools.

The country's agricultural sector remains hopelessly backward and many Romanian villages still lack running water.

The no-nonsense Basescu, a former merchant marine captain, promised a fresh start when he narrowly won the presidency in December 2004. He steered the country to European Union membership in January 2007 and presided over several years of economic growth. Foreign investment flooded into the country, real estate in and around Bucharest took off and the government took some halting steps to tackle corruption and come to terms with the past.

But the Social Democrats still controlled parliament and were able to frustrate much of Basescu's agenda. They even engineered an attempt in 2007 to impeach him - but a referendum decisively returned him to power.

Then came the global economic slump. Thousands of Romanian workers who had found lucrative employment in Italy, Spain and elsewhere in Europe, lost their jobs and had to return home. The Romanian economy is forecast to shrink by 8.5 percent this year and had to look to the International Monetary Fund for a $30 billion bailout. The country has been run by a caretaker government since mid-October when the Social Democrats withdrew their support. There is no state budget for 2010 and the IMF has delayed disbursing its next scheduled loan payment of $2.2 billion until the crisis is resolved. The money is needed to pay some 1.3 million state workers, who will likely have to celebrate Christmas without their salaries. For them and for millions of other Romanians, it's likely to be a long, cold winter.

As they mark their anniversary, Romanians should take pride in their revolution. They exhibited enormous courage, defying the dictator's tanks and guns with their bare hands to win freedom and the chance of a brighter future. But for many, the promise of that revolution has yet to be fully redeemed.

Romania leftist bets on govt plans ahead of election

* Leftist leader appears to gain ahead of vote run-off

* Centrists and leftists join forces around independent PM

By Luiza Ilie

BUCHAREST, Nov 24 (Reuters) - Romania's leftist leader Mircea Geoana saw his chances of winning the Dec. 6 presidential election run-off rise on Tuesday when his party won the backing of a centrist grouping to jointly form a new government.

After an inconclusive first round on Sunday, both Geoana and incumbent President Traian Basescu need to attract voters from the centrists, whose candidate Crin Antonescu came third.

The winner will play a vital role in solving a government crisis that has delayed aid from a 20 billion euro package led by the International Monetary Fund by nominating a prime minister tasked with overseeing deep economic reform.

"We decided to work on an anti-crisis government programme and support Mircea Geoana on the condition we sign an agreement," Antonescu told reporters after a party meeting.

Commentators agree any government built by Geoana and Antonescu would have a shot at political stability after months of bickering that has angered voters and upset financial markets.

But many say such an alliance would be riven by policy differences over painful fiscal reforms and would likely drag its feet on fighting endemic corruption in Romania.

Both Antonescu's Liberal Party and Geoana support a provincial city mayor Klaus Johannis, a member of Romania's ethnic Germany minority, for prime minister.

"We see a competitive advantage for Geoana because of his efforts to unite around a programme with an independent prime minister," said commentator Cristian Patrasconiu.

Almost complete results showed Basescu winning 32 percent of Sunday's vote against Geoana's 31 percent and Antonescu's 20 percent.

The Romanian leu edged up versus the euro on Tuesday in line with regional sentiment as markets awaited more clarity on the election result.

TALKS

Geoana's Social Democrats (PSD) met earlier on Tuesday and were expected to announce their backing for Johannis later in the day.

"(Johannis) is what Romanians want," senior PSD member Adrian Nastase told reporters ahead of the meeting.

Basescu appeared increasingly isolated after his efforts to invite Antonescu's centrists to negotiate failed.

Striking a confrontational tone that commentators say may cost him the ballot, he said he would not seek support from any grouping.

"Votes are not merchandise," Basescu told reporters in an attack on efforts by Geoana to team up with Antonescu.

The presidential election was an obstacle to political stability in recent months, with Basescu's Democrat-Liberal Party and Geoana's Social Democats unwilling to back each other's efforts to solve the crisis, hoping the vote would give them the upper hand.

Basescu, a tough-talking former ship captain, hopes to attract voters with promises to reform Romania's murky political elites, whom he accuses of soaking up state resources for personal gain.

But his allure as crusader against the pervasive corruption in Romania has waned during his five-year mandate, with voters blaming him for bickering among main political parties that has fanned back-pedalling on reforming the justice system.

Geoana promises social protection for the poorest and state aid at a time of deep recession. (Writing by Justyna Pawlak; Editing by Janet Lawrence) ((radu.marinas@reuters.com; +40 21 315 8320; Reuters Messaging: radu.marinas.reuters.com@reuters.net))

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Romania election's strange enigma

By Nick Thorpe
BBC News, Calarasi

The Basescu camp were all smiles, Mr Geoana's team looked calm and determined. The photographs of the victory celebrations splashed across Romanian newspapers' front-pages reflect the strange enigma of this presidential election - the top three candidates all claimed victory.

Traian Basescu won 32.8%, according to partial official results. It is a big fall from his former position as the darling of the majority of Romanians, but a good enough result to make him confident for the run-off on 6 December.

The result of the referendum held at the same time as the presidential vote was also a boost for Mr Basescu.

Around 80% voted in favour of his proposal to axe the Senate, the upper chamber of the Romanian Parliament, and reduce the lower house from 471 to 300 seats.

Mr Basescu presents himself as the champion of the people against what he calls the corrupt political elite, and that message is popular, even with those who don't trust him anymore. His critics say he is part of that elite, simply with different backers.

Too many enemies

Mircea Geoana won 29.8% and radiates stern confidence. A former foreign minister and seasoned diplomat who finds it hard to laugh and kiss babies on the campaign-trail, he edged aside more powerful figures in his Social Democratic party.


If he wins the run-off, it will be because Traian Basescu has made too many enemies, especially in the pro-Socialist part of the media, which attacks him from morning to night.

If he loses, it will be because he lacks Mr Basescu's human touch, and because doubts remain over his ability to control the "red barons" in his own party.

Crin Antonescu of the National Liberals scored 20.3%, and was the first choice of all those who are fed up with Basescu, but could not bring themselves to vote Socialist. His voters hold the key to victory on 6 December.

They appear reluctant to hand it to either Mr Basescu or Mr Geoana.

Better vision?

In the city of Calarasi, 130 km south-east of Bucharest, the sun shone warmly on election day, and parents and grandparents dawdled with their children in a playground on the shore of the River Danube, on their way home from voting.

"I voted for Geoana," said Ion Vilcea. "He's more educated than the others, he has a better vision... one I can relate to.

"He's something of a gentleman, he doesn't attack the other," added Mr Vilcea, as his grand-daughter Georgia-Aurel shot past on her scooter.

On the far side of the playground, Alina Cristaki said she had not voted yet, but was going to pick Traian Basescu.

"He hasn't done everything he said he would in the past five years," she admitted. "But he deserves another chance."

What would she actually want from her next president?

"A lot of things," she said, laughing, as her two children Angelika and Robert played in the sand. "Better child allowance from the state, for a start."

Bad habits

A Basescu election poster beside the road carried the text: "They cannot avoid what they are afraid of" - a reference to the parliamentary deputies on whom the president has declared war, who might lose their seats if parliament is reduced in size.


"Members of parliament in Romania, once elected have few links with their own constituencies," said Christian Mititelu, a political commentator in Bucharest. "That is partly due to the voting system, but it is also a bad political habit.

"What is worse, there is no real debate about how the economy should function, the damage done by inflation, and the need for budgetary caution. The public are not sufficiently aware of it, and the politicians do not appear to have the communication skills to make people feel more involved in the decisions of the government."

The winter sun slipped swiftly down into the Danube, behind the trees on the far bank in Bulgaria.

A young couple watched it from the foot of a metal sculpture jutting out into the water.

Leaving Calarasi, to reach the motorway to Bucharest, the steel-works which Nicolae Ceausescu built up here rose like a separate city, its chimneys and factory halls floating against the sunset.

From such a distance, no-one would guess that it is just a shadow of its former self, a rusting hulk sinking into the ploughed fields.


Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/europe/8374506.stm

Struggling Romania tests reforming zeal of EU and IMF

From The Times
November 24, 2009
Bronwen Maddox: World Briefing



The European Union has achieved a small, surprising success in helping Central and Eastern Europe to avoid a savage banking crisis this year. We should give it credit for that. Bank regulation is not an area where the EU has generally distinguished itself in clarity or consistency. It has usually failed to rise above national interests, or even those of individual banks.

But in this case, the European Commission did move untypically fast. The big banks of Austria, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Sweden had taken over almost the entire banking sector of Central and Eastern Europe. There was a risk that they would choke off credit as confidence fell. Together with the International Monetary Fund and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development — institutions that have rediscovered a purpose through the crisis — the EU dissuaded the banks from pulling out capital. The EBRD even claims, in its latest Transition Report, that countries with the greatest foreign bank ownership fared better in the crisis than those relying mainly on local finance. However, as Katinka Barysch, of the Centre for European Reform, observes more soberly, the report also shows that foreign banks helped to fuel unsustainable booms in the first place.

Romania is now a test of whether the EU, the IMF and the EBRD can improve on that narrow success in banking, and keep up pressure for reform. Romania has been badly hit in the past year. Economic output fell by 7.6 per cent in the first half of this year. The process of electing the president, which began on Sunday, will show whether Romanians still have stamina for the changes that the EU and financiers are demanding.

Last month the centre-left coalition Government collapsed, and the IMF said that it would withhold the third tranche (of about €1.5 billion) of a two-year, €20 billion package of international financial help, probably until a new government was in place. That may take time. The president picks the prime minister, who then assembles the government, but the current presidential contest is proving a tight race. With most votes counted from Sunday’s first round, President Traian Basescu, a centrist, narrowly led Mircea Geoana, the socialist former Foreign Minister. Each has some Western support — Basescu because he talks the language of markets; Geoana partly from his stint as Ambassador to the US. But many find Basescu abrasive, and investors fear that if he wins in the run-off on December 6, it will be by only a slim margin, and he will not help much in forming a coalition.

Delay matters. Despite Romania’s accession to the EU in January 2007, it has remained ravaged by corruption. Caustic reports from Brussels have not had much effect. The IMF is now sceptical that Romania can cut spending or public employment in recession.

Barysch, who warns that much of the region is failing to reform enough to compete globally for capital and trade, argues that governments may now promise to shield their voters from reform, and not pursue change. That would endanger the economic success of the past 20 years of transition.

AP: Traian Basescu, Romania's President, In Runoff Election With Rival Mircea Geoana

BUCHAREST, Romania — The third-place candidate in Romania's presidential election threw his support Monday behind the Western-backed socialist who faces the centrist president in a runoff seen as key to the country's emergence from political and economic crisis.

Neither former Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana nor President Traian Basescu took enough of the vote to win outright in a Sunday election. Basescu received 32.5 percent while Geoana won 30.7 percent, election authorities said after about 96 percent of the vote was counted.

Geoana, a former ambassador to Washington, enjoys support among many Western diplomats and officials as the figure who can end weeks of political instability that led to a euro1.5 billion ($2.2 billion) IMF loan being suspended until Romania has a government and a budget for 2010.

Unemployment in Romania, one of Europe's poorest countries, stands at 7.1 percent, up 3 percentage points in the last year. The economy is expected to shrink about 8.5 percent this year.

Basescu says he supports lower taxes and has called for unspecified reforms to modernize Romania. Geoana promises political stability and greater welfare for the poor and retired.

The government collapsed last month amid squabbling between the coalition of the Democratic Liberal party, which supports the president, and Geoana's Social Democrats over the dismissal of the interior minister, who oversees the elections.

The dismissed minister was loyal to Geoana, who said that Basescu wanted a loyalist in the position to cover up possible fraud.

It would be difficult for either man to win the runoff without the support of voters loyal to conservative opposition leader Crin Antonescu, who came in third.

Antonescu, whose Liberals favor lower taxes and support for private business, said at a news conference that the president was a "demagogue and a populist" and vowed to support Geoana, whom he called "the lesser of two evils" in the Dec. 6 runoff.

Geoana immediately agreed to Antonescu's request to name the mayor of the city of Sibiu as prime minister, who has won respect for his managerial skills, if he wins.

The president is key to reviving the government because he nominates a prime minister, who Parliament must then approve and who would be responsible for forming a new coalition. Basescu and Geoana called the election one of the most important votes in Romania since 1989 and the fall of communism.

Romania's Electoral Committee said more than 479,000 people, far more than normal, cast ballots at 3,500 special voting centers that were set up for Romanians who need to vote outside their area of residence because they are traveling.

Witnesses claimed some were being bused there after already having cast ballots elsewhere.

Vadim Zhdanovich, who headed the election observers for the Organization for Security and Cooperation, called the elections "generally fair" but flawed. There has been no serious move for a recount.

Jeremy Clarkson in trouble over 'jokes' about Romania


Producers of the popular BBC Two series have been asked by the Romanian government to remove “offensive” remarks made about the country.

When Mr Clarkson and his co-presenters Richard Hammond and James May visited the Romanian countryside, he put on a pork pie-style hat and talked of entering “Borat country”.

During the first programme of the series, which was screened last week, Clarkson said: ‘‘I’m wearing this hat so the gypsies think I am one. I’m told they can be violent if they don’t like the look of you.”

The presenter was also seen washing his face before he said "cool, refreshing communist water".

Dr Ion Jinag, Romanian ambassador in London, was “surprised and disappointed” by the references to Borat and gypsies.

The Romanian embassy said: “We anticipate a positive response to our request for changes.”

Mr Clarkson, 49, regularly provokes outrage with his close-to-the-wire comments. Earlier this month he said they would have to present Top Gear in silence in order not to offend anyone.

In 2006 he described a car as being "a bit gay" and "very ginger beer".

The BBC was also forced to apologise after Mr Clarkson asked co-presenter Richard Hammond if he was "mental" when he returned to the show following a near-fatal car crash.

Last year he sparked a flurry of complaints when he joked about lorry drivers murdering prostitutes.

The show begun in 1977, and was relaunched as a more humorous programme in 2002.

Clarkson has been presenting Top Gear since 1988, leading it to become the most watched show on BBC Two, broadcast in over 100 countries around the world.

A Top Gear spokesman said a letter of complaint had been received from the Romanian authorities.

Romanian president, rival face run-off vote: polls


By Mihaela Rodina (AFP)

BUCHAREST — Romania's incumbent president and his Social-Democrat rival will face a run-off after Sunday's first round election, exit polls showed, as the country aims to recover from a political crisis and a deep recession.

Centre-right President Traian Basescu and his main rival Mircea Geoana were the two top vote-getters in Sunday's vote, two exit polls showed, putting them in line for a second round of the presidential election on December 6.

Basescu is in the lead with 33.72 percent of votes cast, according to an exit poll by the CURS Institute for public television, followed by Geoana with 31.44 percent.

Another exit poll by the Insomar Institute for a private television station, Realitatea, put Basescu at 32.8 percent and Geoana at 31.7 percent.

The winner of the run-off will be pressed to name a new prime minister, with Romania in the hands of a caretaker government for the last six weeks -- a situation that has put on hold reforms eagerly awaited by financial institutions.

It is the first election of a head of state since Romania entered the European Union in January 2007 and comes after the collapse of prime minister Emil Boc's centre-right government in October.

Official results were expected on Monday morning.

Basescu, a 58-year-old former sea captain who has been in office since 2004, said late Sunday after the exit poll results that a run-off was a "stage victory" for his right-wing politics.

"Today, I achieved a stage victory," he told supporters. He added that it was "a significant vote for the right" and that the politicians "need to take into account the opinion of the Romanian electorate in forming a government."

Geoana, 51, was an ambassador to the United States in the late 1990s and foreign affairs minister between 2000 and 2004.

He told supporters after the polls closed: "On December 6 we will win together. It is then the hardest work will begin: we need to unit the country after five years of scandals and discord."

Voter turnout stood at 53.52 percent, higher than expected, according to figures released by the national electoral commission late Sunday.

Since the fall of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu 20 years ago, voter participation has however continually declined, from 86 percent in 1990 to 58.93 percent in the last presidential election in 2004.

Geoana has proposed a "vigorous anti-crisis plan" while Basescu has positioned himself as a "fighter" against those "opposed to reforms," including the Social Democrats, whom he accuses of serving their business interests.

There is much work to be done to repair the economy, with Romanian GDP expected to shrink by eight percent in 2009. But the country's unsettled political situation has done it no favours.

A third installment of a 20-billion-euro (29.7-billion-dollar) aid package by the International Monetary Fund, the EU and the World Bank has been postponed until a new government is formed.

In third place in the first round vote was liberal candidate Crin Antonescu with around 21 percent, according to the exit polls.

"The question now is where will the liberal voters go," said political analyst Emil Hurezeanu on private television channel Realitatea TV, while another analyst Stelian Tanase predicted the run-off would amount to a vote for or against Basescu.

More than 18 million people out of the population of 21.5 million were eligible to vote in more than 21,400 polling stations around the country.

"I am voting today in the hope that the health and education systems will be improved. I hope that the future president will be able to find ways to get us out of the economic crisis," Rodica Anca Popescu, a pensioner from Bucharest, told AFP.

Several parties on Sunday made allegations of irregularities in certain districts.

The vote was being observed by monitors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and several non-governmental organisations.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Postcard from Europe: Romanian countryside transformed by EU subsidies

www.dw-world.de


The EU's agricultural subsidies to Romania might be a blessing for the economy - but for the rural life they're are a curse. Unemployment is skyrocketing and traditional architecture is disappearing at an alarming pace.


In the late 1980's, English newspapers were full of stories of how the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was laying waste the historic villages of Romania. There followed an international outcry against such brutal, architectural vandalism.

But then in the final days of 1989, Romania's bloody revolution brought an abrupt end to it all. Ceausescu and his wife Elena were led out into the backyard of a militia garrison in Targoviste and shot dead.

By chance, two weeks later, I was travelling through eastern Europe and found myself crossing the Romanian border, where I expected to find a wasteland of bulldozed settlements. Instead I found villages more intact and more beautiful than any I had seen in all of eastern Europe. It was then I discovered that Ceausescu's plans to "systematize" the villages had never been carried out.

Not only were the villages beautiful but they were also full of people, all of whom had jobs. The land around the villages was neatly cultivated, there were thriving forests, and nowhere was there any sign of advertising or neon lights.

Modern blundering

Now the communist cooperative farms have closed down, and to find work villagers are forced to travel abroad, often lured by false promises and ending up begging and working in prostitution.

The forests are being chopped down at a rate faster than at any time since World War II - there is now 20 percent less forestland in Romania than in 1989 - and the once pristine countryside is now littered not only with plastic, but also with advertising billboards and neon lights promoting the same Western products which create that litter. The modern world has blundered in with barely a thought for the consequences.

Those villagers who didn't go abroad to work have until now, with their few animals, managed to survive. But this year the pace of change accelerated.

In August I watched as monstrous, EU financed machines rumbled though my village and headed for the hay meadows. There they roared up and down spewing forth huge, cylindrical hay-bales.

One man operated each machine, and the jobs of twenty people, mostly Sinti and Roma, were gone in a moment. The benign, small-scale agriculture upon which the villagers relied was brought ever nearer its end.

EU subsidies hurt the poor

You might think the EU agricultural subsidies given directly to farmers are helping - and in a way they are - but they are given only to those who already have more than a certain amount of land or number of animals. The smallest subsistence farmers receive nothing, and so, as ever, the rich get richer and the poor are squeezed out.

But there is a greater irony. Those lucky enough to receive EU subsidies, often pocketing large sums of money, are using them to modernize their 18th and 19th century village houses beyond all recognition, turning them into garish villas which bear no resemblance to the historic architecture around them.

For a tiny proportion of the money spent on subsidizing agriculture, the EU could have ensured that Romania's historic architecture was properly legally protected. It did not.

The result is a creeping cultural catastrophe, and the destruction is on a scale far greater than anything Ceausescu ever achieved. Ceausescu had wanted to destroy Romania's historic villages; the modern world and the EU are now doing his work for him.



Author: William Blacker
Editor: Andreas Illmer

Exit polls: No clear winner in Romania's election

By ALISON MUTLER Associated Press Writer

BUCHAREST, Romania—A presidential election aimed at helping Romania emerge from a political and economic crisis failed to produce a winner on Sunday, and the top two candidates will compete in a runoff next month, according to two exit polls.

If the exit polls are confirmed by official results on Monday, centrist President Traian Basescu, 58, will face socialist former Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana, 51, in the runoff on Dec. 6.

One exit poll said Basescu won 34.1 percent of the votes, compared to 30.9 percent for Geoana. The other said Basescu won 32.8 percent, compared to 31.7 percent for Geoana. Conservative opposition leader Crin Antonescu polled about 21 percent, finishing third in an election featuring a dozen

Romania's government collapsed last month amid squabbling between the two-party coalition, and the International Monetary Fund has delayed access to a euro1.5 billion ($2 billion) IMF bailout loan while the country struggles to set up a new government.

A president is key to reviving the government because he nominates a prime minister, whom Parliament must then approve and who would be responsible for forming a new coalition.

Reports of possible fraud in Sunday's election emerged as far more people than normal cast ballots at 3,500 special voting centers that were set up for Romanians who need to vote outside their area of residence because they are traveling.

The Electoral Committee said more than 430,000 people voted at such locations, and witnesses claimed some were being bused there after already having cast ballots elsewhere. For instance, Economy Minister Adriean Videanu called for a halt to "electoral tourism" in Moara Vlasie, near Bucharest, saying election authorities there were overwhelmed.

Basescu and Geoana called the election one of the most important votes in Romania since 1989 and the fall of communism.

Basescu, who is running for a second five-year term as Geoana, who heads the left-leaning Social Democrats and is the leader of the Senate, said: "We worked hard to get here. We will work even harder in the next two weeks, and on Dec. 6 we will win together."

More than 18 million Romanians were eligible to vote Sunday, and about 50 percent of registered voters cast ballots, according to the Electoral Committee.

Basescu, who no longer belongs to a political party because of constitutional requirements, has lost some public support because of his stormy relationship with Parliament and the country's deep economic crisis. Geoana favors a broad coalition government, while Basescu wants to form a government from the Democratic Liberal party he used to lead.

Romania's economy, already in a deep recession, is expected to shrink some 8.5 percent this year. The country needs the IMF loan to pay state salaries and pensions, but is unlikely to get it this year. That would force 1.3 million state workers to take eight days of unpaid leave in 2009. Unemployment in Romania, one of Europe's poorest countries, already stands at 7.1 percent, up 3 percent in the last year.

Voters also were taking part in a referendum on Sunday asking if they want to reduce the number of lawmakers in Parliament and abolish one of its two houses.

Basescu, who called the referendum, wants a one-chamber Parliament with a Parliament and the president now share power equally.

Incumbent President Wins 1st Round Of Romanian Vote

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Incumbent President Traian Basescu won the first round of Romania's presidential election on Sunday, and will face leftist leader Mircea Geoana in a December 6 runoff, exit polls showed.

Surveys by pollsters INSOMAR and CURS showed Basescu garnering 33-34 percent of the vote with Geoana closely behind with 31-32 percent.

The election is vital to solving a government crisis that has delayed aid from the International Monetary Fund 
and reviving stalled economic and political reforms in the Balkan state of 22 million.

Whoever wins the election will play a pivotal role by nominating a new prime minister to replace the centre-left coalition government that collapsed in October.

Romania Presidential Poll Overshadowed By Political Turmoil

Voice of America News


Romanians vote Sunday in a presidential election with president Traian Basescu and his main left-wing challenger tied in opinion polls. The international community hopes the vote will resolve a government crisis that has paralyzed Romania, which is facing a major economic crisis.

Sunday's presidential ballot in Romania is closely monitored by the International Monetary Fund and the European Union. Both organizations have delayed installments of a $30 billion IMF-led rescue package for the country after last month's collapse of its center-left government.

The Social Democrats quit the coalition to protest the dismissal of their interior minister for comments about possible election fraud. These remarks were seen as an accusation that the ruling Liberal Democrats might cheat to get Romania's 58-year-old president, Traian Basescu,
re-elected.

The IMF hopes that after the elections, the president will quickly appoint a new prime minister to tackle deep economic reforms, that critics say governments ignored since communism collapsed in 1989.

Romania urgently needs international aid to pay state sector salaries and pensions at a time when the economy is expected to shrink by up to eight percent this year.

President Basescu, a former sea captain, wants to be re-elected to in his words 'steer the Romanian ship' through the current economic storm.

Speaking at a televised election debate Friday, Mr. Basescu said he deserves to receive another five-year term because he proved during his mandate that he is ready "to fight for more justice" and against corruption that has undermined the economy.

He also wants to reduce the number of lawmakers, saying a 471-member parliament is "too expensive" and even organized a referendum on this issue parallel with Sunday's ballot.

Recent opinion polls have given Mr. Basescu about one-third of the vote, but that is only a slight edge over his main challenger Mircea Geoana.

The 51-year old Geoana, a former foreign minister who leads the leftist Social Democrats, received applause at Friday's election debate, after saying he had a plan to tackle Romania's economic crisis.

Geoana makes clear that even if he does not become president, he hopes his economic project will be implemented. It includes giving cheap credits to enterprises to help create jobs while also providing affordable housing for young people.

Western organizations have made clear however that whoever wins Sunday's ballot will face the prospect that real long-term economic growth can only be achieved with tough measures. They include IMF-backed plans to sack up to 150,000 of Romania's 1.3 million public workers, freezing state wages and cut pensions.

Some 1,000 local and international monitors are observing Sunday's vote. As no candidate is expected to receive more than 50 percent of the vote , a final run-off election is scheduled for December 6.

Romanians reflect on life during communist era

www.dw-world.de

Romania's communist regime crumbled in December 1989, and dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife were executed on Christmas Day. Two decades on, DW correspondent Zack Baddorf asked Romanians to reflect on the changes.


Zack Baddorf is a DW correspondent who lives in Barlad, Romania. He spoke to various people in his community about what their lives were like under communism. This is his personal account of those conversations.


It's difficult for me, as an American, to picture what life was really like in Romania during communism. I'm 26 and I was born in a middle-class suburb in the United States. When I moved to Romania as a Peace Corps volunteer last year, I arrived in a country that is an EU member, with plans to adopt the euro as its currency.

Romania is also a member of NATO. It had troops in Iraq and still has soldiers in Afghanistan. You can find free Wi-Fi Internet in some public parks here. The only obvious physical remnants of communism are the thousands of concrete pre-fab apartment blocks that line the streets in most cities and even in little towns in the countryside.

I teach English at a technical high school in Barlad. One evening, I was eating dinner with my colleague, Anca Sandu, 34, and her husband. Since she'd grown up under communism, I asked her what it was like.

She said that, back then, people generally had more respect for their country, nationality and history. And there were other positive things.

"Everyone had a job, and everyone had a house," she told me. "The problem was that we weren't allowed access to information. We weren't allowed to read writers who didn't have Ceausescu's approval. We weren't allowed to travel abroad, or have friends from abroad. On some days, we weren't allowed to drive."

And then there were the food rations, she said: no more than half a loaf of bread, not too much meat, or sugar, and so on.

While we spoke, Anca's husband, Vio, chopped potatoes and cooked them in a frying pan. Twenty years ago, if he'd been cooking at 7:00 pm, he would've been cooking by candlelight. That's because the communist government cut off electricity from 6:00 - 8:00 pm each night across the country to preserve energy.

A youngster at the time, Vio remembers that he used that time to play with his friends. At 8:00 pm, the kids would go home to join their parents in watching the only two hours of TV that were available in Romania each day. For children, there was a state-controlled cartoon show with a hero named Mihaela.

"Usually, Mihaela talked about our great leader," Vio said with a laugh. "First we had to listen to a song about our great leader. Then, there'd be a story involving Mihaela and the great leader."

Economic hardship has remained

A survey conducted in 2007 found that about 79 percent of Romanians now have cable TV. In the Sandu household, the TV set in the kitchen was tuned to a national news network. We focused our attention briefly on a report about a meeting of the government's ministry for family and labor issues. The story's message? Life is hard, and expensive.

"Is that true?" I asked my hosts.

"Yes, it's true," said Vio. "These days, it's true."

Later, I ask Liliana Bobaru, 50, a former factory worker in Barlad, how she feels about the local economy today. Romania, after all, has the highest inflation rate in the EU, and about one in 10 people are unemployed.

"For me, life is tough," Liliana confirmed. "The leu doesn't have the value it used to. Now, you can go to the stores and you can buy anything, but there's no money. Back then, we had money, but there was nothing to buy."

Mariana Paveliu, a French teacher at the school where I work, said that the food rations and lack of consumer goods weren't the biggest problem back then. She lived half of her life under communism, and didn't meet her father until she was 12 because he had been a political prisoner for 13 years. He was accused of sympathizing with an anti-communist movement.

"Communism leaves a bitter taste in my mouth," she said, adding that she doesn't harbor any nostalgia for the old way of life. She complains that many of the higher-ups in the former Communist government are still in positions of authority today, and that they still fail to recognize the merit of individual people.

New generation aware of responsibility

Romanians, of course, now live in a free society. Despite their hard-won liberties, many Romanians I've talked to are pessimistic about the future.

But then I met 15-year-old Antonia Nita. The ninth-grader never lived a day under communism, and is of the firm opinion that democracy is best not just for Romania, but every country.

"What does democracy mean to you?" I asked her.

"Democracy means power of the people," she replied, adding: "Power of the citizens, not just the power of single person or a group of people."

She realizes that her generation has a lot to do to ensure that Romania functions as a true democracy, but she's optimistic.

"We're all learning about what democracy means," she said. "We're learning about how to improve our country and I hope it will be better in the future."


Author: Zack Baddorf (dc)
Editor: Andreas Illmer

Romanian Election Poised to Go to Run-Off

November 21, 2009

(Angus Reid Global Monitor) - Tomorrow’s presidential election in Romania will likely need a second round, according to a poll by CCSB. 35 per cent of respondents would vote for incumbent Traian Basescu in the first round, up one point since early November.

Mircea Geoana of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) is second with 31 per cent, followed by Crin Antonescu of the National Liberal Party (PNL) with 18 per cent, and Bucharest mayor Sorin Oprescu with eight 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)

In run-off scenarios featuring Basescu, the incumbent is tied with Orescu and trails Geoana by six points, and Antonescu by four points.

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, in conjunction with the first round of the presidential election, would participate in a referendum on switching the country’s legislative body from a bi-cameral entity to a unicameral parliament.

On Nov. 19, Geoana declared: "I am confident I would win the second round of the presidential elections."

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?

Nov. 14
Nov. 3
Oct. 2009
Traian Basescu
35%
34%
31%
Mircea Geoana (PSD)
31%
30%
20%
Crin Antonescu (PNL)
18%
18%
18%
Sorin Oprescu (Ind.)
8%
14%
14%
Corneliu Vadim Tudor (PRM)
5%
3%
8%
George Becali (PNG-CD)
2%
1%
6%
Kelemen Hunor (UDMR)
2%
1%
2%
Run-off scenarios
Traian Basescu 47% - 53% Mircea Geoana (PSD) 
Traian Basescu 48% - 52% Crin Antonescu (PNL) 
Traian Basescu 50% - 50% Sorin Oprescu (Ind.)
Source: CCSB 
Methodology: Interviews with 1,195 Romanian adults, conducted on Nov. 13 and Nov. 14, 2009. Margin of error is 2.9 per cent.

PREVIEW-Romanian crisis hinges on presidential vote

By Radu Marinas

BUCHAREST, Nov 20 (Reuters) - Romania holds a closely fought presidential election on Sunday that investors hope will resolve a government crisis that is holding up IMF aid and revive momentum for political and economic reforms.


Opinion polls show centrist incumbent Traian Basescu holding a slim lead with about 33 percent support, compared with 30 percent for his left-wing challenger, Mircea Geoana. The third candidate, Crin Antonescu, has about 18 percent backing.

A second round of voting between the top two candidates will take place on Dec. 6 if no one wins an absolute majority.

Most opinion polls point to a runoff between Basescu and Geoana. They show them running neck-and-neck in the second round, although two recent surveys have shown Basescu just behind but within the margin of error.

The centre-left coalition government collapsed last month, just weeks before the election, as a result of party feuding. The new president is expected to appoint a prime minister to form a new cabinet.

Its main task will be to win back the trust of international lenders, including the International Monetary Fund and the European Commission, and restore investor confidence damaged by political instability and back-pedalling on reforms.

With the presidential vote too close to call, what kind of government will emerge is unclear. Whoever forms it will have three election-free years to overhaul bloated public finances and clear out a political class steeped in murky deals and graft.

Broad reforms are vital. Twenty years after the end of communist rule, Romania, a Balkan country of 22 million people, remains one of the poorest and most corruption-prone corners of the European Union.

'Most other countries seem to have already done these reforms, it's ancient history for them ... and Romania is losing the confidence of investors as it still struggles with them,' said Daniel Hewitt, Barclays ( BCS - news - people ) Capital senior economist in London.

'But having three election-free years is its best chance to reforms.'

BUDGET PLAN

In the short-term, mending relations with the IMF will be vital to restore payments from Romania's 20 billion euro aid package led by the Fund earlier this year, and to ensure the economy moves smoothly out of recession.

This will require passing a sound budget plan for 2010 and making further cuts in public spending, particularly difficult ahead of the election.

The new president will have little direct effect on policy implementation but he will play a vital role in helping build a sound coalition after the election.

If Basescu is re-elected, he may try to revive his drive against corruption which won him votes in 2004. To see reforms through, the former sea captain may have to change the confrontational style that has alienated politicians across the spectrum.

After sweeping into office in 2004 on promises of reform, Basescu has seen his support crumble from 50 percent at its peak, as voters have lost patience with slow progress.

His main opponent, Geoana, is seen as less likely to tackle graft with a firm hand. A government formed around his Social Democrat Party, dogged by sleaze scandals, would be less motivated to reform public finances than a centre-led cabinet.

Both politicians support Romania's IMF deal but the third candidate, Antonescu, has said in the past the agreement should be renegotiated.

'There's a great deal of tension from the investors' side as to what it (the presidential election) means for the government, and further what it means for the budget,' said Jon Levy from Eurasia Group think tank.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Hajj Unites Romania Muslims

By Hany Salah, IOL Correspondent

CAIRO – Romania's two biggest Muslim organizations have joined hands for the first time to co-organize the annual hajj journey, a move see as an important step towards uniting Muslim organizations in the eastern European country.

"We have been working for this end since the beginning of the year," Dr. Abu Al-Ala Alghithi, the director of Taiba Foundation, told IslamOnline.net over the phone from Bucharest.

"I visited Saudi Arabia twice thus year with Mufti of Romania Iusuf Murat and officially requested that Romanian Ifta' House be given the status of an official hajj organizer," he added.

Alghithi noted that the Saudi approval came only ten days ago.

"But we have placed all our expertise and people at the disposal of the Ifta' House to help organize the hajj journey."

The total number of Romanian pilgrims this year is estimated at 143, including 88 people who are going under the joint umbrella of the Ifta' House and Taiba.

Twenty five people are benefiting from the free hajj trips offered by Saudi Arabia while the remaining 30 are either traveling on their own or through other organizations.

"This is an excellent number in view of the fact that we only had less than seven days (since the Saudi approval)," Alghithi explained.

Every able-bodied adult Muslim -- who can financially afford the trip -- must perform hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam, once in their lifetime.

Hajj, the world’s biggest religious gathering, will climax this year on Thursday, November 26, when nearly three million people descend the Mount `Arafat.

Unity

The joint organization of the hajj by Romania's two biggest Muslim organizations is seen as an important step towards uniting Muslim organizations in the eastern European country.

"The importance of this step is that it is the first cooperation between Ifta' House and Taiba organization," explains Alghithi.

"It's the first step towards unifying the efforts exerted by these two major Muslim organizations."

The Ifta' House is the official organization representing the Muslim minority while Taiba is the country's biggest da'wa organization.

Alghithi believes this would better serve the interests of Muslims in Romania.

"We are in a dire need of unifying our efforts and working on our main objectives as a minority trying to cement its place in society."

Official estimates put the number of Muslims in Romania at nearly 48,000, notes Alghithi.

But the Ifta' House says there are some 70,000 Muslims in Romanian, making up two percent of its 22 million population.

Most Romanian Muslims belong to the Tatar, Turkish or Albanian ethnic communities.

Romanian Polls Are Now Pointing To Regime Change

WSJ Blogs
By Christopher Emsden

Only one thing is (almost) certain about Romanian politics: There will be no victor in Sunday’s presidential vote.

That, of course, just kicks the can down the road until a second round on Dec. 6.

Incumbent President Traian Basescu, closely tied to the conservative Democratic Liberal Party, has retained, barely, his front-runner position for this Sunday’s vote, and should poll around a third of the ballots cast, ahead of 30% or so for Mircea Geoana, the leader of the Social Democrat Party, according to opinion polls from the CURS, Inosmar and CCSB polling agencies in Bucharest.

But his star has been falling and now looks to have passed a crucial point. Geoana would win the second round, taking as much as 54% of the vote, according to the latest polls.

So what’s the best outcome?
A Geoana victory “would actually provide for a more stable backdrop ahead,” says Simon Quijano-Evans, the CEE strategist for Cheuvreux in Vienna.

His interpretation is somewhat against the consensus but cunning: The new president will have to nominate a prime minister, and the SDP has already indicate it could agree on a compromise candidate with other opposition parties.

So at least a government could be formed, which is rather essential given the IMF has signaled it needs a counterparty before it can disburse any more of its emergency loan funds.

On the other hand, Geoana and the SDP have criticized the IMF conditions, which include sharp cuts to public-sector employee ranks and wages.

That raises the specter of political stability coming only at the cost of economic stability.

At ay rate Basescu appears to have been outfoxed. After the SDP quit the coalition he has nominated two prime ministers, both times doing so even after opposition parties warned they would not support the candidates. Given that the Democratic Liberals are now identified as the government negotiating with the IMF, that leaves Basescu closely identified with the swingeing austerity cuts to come.

Geoana has avoided any electoral debates, apparently detecting little to gain.

That’s a risk. Geoana is hardly bolstering his leadership credentials by refusing to go mano a mano with his rivals in what one local analyst called a “confrontation between rappers.”

Not that the campaign has been a dignified spectacle.

Indeed, Basescu has emphasized that he doesn’t actually like the job and his main effort at articulatilng a track record was that Romania grew during his term – thanks to somewhat larger maritime rights resulting from an International Court of Justice ruling earlier this year on a dispute with Ukraine over Snake Island, a small atoll in the western Black Sea.

EU probes 50 mln euros of Romanian aid to Oltchim


BRUSSELS, Nov 19 (Reuters) - The European Commission said on Thursday it had launched an in-depth investigation into 49.6 million euros ($73.8 million) of aid granted to chemical maker Oltchim OLTC.BX by the Romanian government.

The Commission, executive arm of the 27-nation European Union, said in a statement that it had doubts about whether the assistance, offered under a previous temporarily approved scheme, was in line with EU state aid rules.

EU regulators had launched a different probe in September after Romania announced plans to grant aid amounting to 135 million euros in a debt-to-equity swap and a 339.2 million euro guarantee for the state-controlled chemical producer.

Romanian Vote Signals Leu to Stay Low as Investors Flee Impasse

Nov. 20 (Bloomberg) -- Romanian voters will try on Nov. 22 to elect a president and break a political deadlock that has depressed the value of the currency, driven away investors and stalled the payment of a bailout loan. They will probably fail.

The leading candidates, incumbent Traian Basescu and former diplomat Mircea Geoana, lack enough support for outright victory, opinion polls show. With 10 others vying to woo 18 million eligible voters, the election will probably go into a second-round runoff on Dec. 6.

The 10-month-old government collapsed on Oct. 13 after a no-confidence vote and Basescu failed to win lawmaker support for a new premier. The law forbade him from calling early elections within six months of the end of his term, leaving the new president to end an impasse that risks weakening the leu and pulling down bond and stock prices as investors may shy away from the European Union’s second-poorest state. It’s already stalled payment of the latest installment of bailout money.

“The important thing in this election is to get a government,” Nicolaie Alexandru-Chidesciuc, the chief economist at ING Bank Romania SA. “It doesn’t matter so much who’s elected as whether the new president can form a government and end the uncertainty.”

Until a new government is formed, Prime Minister Emil Boc remains in charge, albeit in a limited role. If an agreement on a permanent replacement is not reached after a new president takes office, early elections may be called for March or April.

Market Risk

The economy, the fastest growing in the EU last year, shrank an annual 7.1 percent in the third quarter and unemployment doubled as companies including carmaker Dacia SA, chemicals maker Azomures SA and ArcelorMittalRomania SA fired workers.

The leu fell to a seven-month low and bonds plunged the day after the government collapsed over a dispute about budget cuts needed to meetInternational Monetary Fund demands and help bring Romania closer to adopting the euro as early as 2015.

The currency has recovered since then, rising 0.4 percent since the no-confidence vote, though the yield on the benchmark international sovereign debt due June 2018 is up 19 basis points at 6.398 percent, according to Bloomberg data.

“What matters most for the markets and the economy is that the country be able to stick to the IMF guidelines for recovery,” said Alexandru-Chidesciuc.

Delayed Payments

A continuation of the stalemate may hurt markets further because of the inability to pass legislation in line with IMF limits, said Raffaella Tenconi, chief economist at Wood & Co. in Prague.

The IMF is withholding disbursements from the 20 billion- euro ($30 billion) international financing bailout package as it awaits a budget plan.

Though a payment should be made in January, “the potential for political instability could delay” further payments, Tenconi said. “We expect significantly greater leu depreciation risks in the near term. The political environment is likely to undermine prospects for capital inflows.”

Basescu, 58, a former tanker captain supported by the Liberal Democratic Party, and Geoana, 51, who heads the Social Democrat Party, would each get 32 percent in the first round, according to a Nov. 18 survey by the INSOMAR polling institute. The survey, which has a margin of error of 3 percent, shows Geoana winning the runoff with 54 percent versus Basescu’s 46 percent.

Parliament Breakdown

The Liberal Democrats hold 167 of Parliament’s 471 seats while the Social Democrats have 158 and the Liberals 79. After Parliamentary elections a year ago, the Liberal Democrats and Social Democrats joined under Boc.

Whoever emerges as the next president would have to seek compromises across party lines for a new premier because neither the Social Democrats nor the Liberal Democrats have enough seats to support a candidate on their own.

Finding that support may be easier for Geoana than Basescu, said Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, a political analyst at the Romanian Academic Society in Bucharest.

Basescu twice this month failed to name a new premier. His first candidate, Lucian Croitoru, a central bank

“We need a government very fast,” Mungiu-Pippidi said. “But I really doubt Mr. Basescu could form the majority he needs in Parliament even if he wins allies from other parties and the independents.”

Basescu and Geoana have said they favor a premier who would meet IMF conditions of a narrower budget deficit, though they differ on tax policy and other areas. The winner must have a wide enough margin to ensure he has the influence to help create a stable majority government.

“The worst outcome,” Tenconi said, would be a close result between the two main candidates, giving the winner a weak mandate to form a government. “The government would be unstable and would likely fall in the not-too-distant future.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Adam Brown in Bucharest atabrown23@bloomberg.net;
adviser, was rejected in a 250-189 vote, while lawmakers have refused to vote on his second choice, Liviu Negoita.