Friday, January 29, 2010

Romania to lift energy emergency on Friday

BUCHAREST, Jan 28 (Reuters) - Romania on Friday will lift an energy emergency declared after freezing temperatures earlier in the week strained the country's gas delivery system, Economy Minister Adriean Videanu said on Thursday.

Warmer temperatures are forecast by the end of the week and Romanian officials have said gas pressure in the transport grid has stabilised.

Asked when Romania would lift the energy emergency, Videanu told Reuters in a text message:"Tomorrow."

Romania declared the energy emergency on Monday after temperatures fell as low as -35 degrees Celsius, boosting demand for heat and causing a glitch in the delivery system. Officials also switched gas-fired power plants to fuel oil.

The country, which produces about 60 percent of its own supplies and is the largest natural gas producer in the Central European and Balkan region -- also turned to Russia for help.

On Tuesday, the ministry boosted Russian gas imports to 10 million cubic metres from Monday's 9 million to help meet demand.

Import levels returned to around 9 million cubic metres the following day, putting total gas resource levels at 66.5 million cubic metres on Wednesday, the economy ministry said.

The energy emergency also led officials to shut off gas to five large chemical and other industrial plants to ensure residential consumers had power to heat their homes. (Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Michael Kahn and Anthony Barker)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Leu Gains to 1-Week High as IMF Team Advises Unfreezing Loan

By Piotr Skolimowski

Jan. 27 (Bloomberg) -- The leu appreciated to its strongest in a week against the euro after an International Monetary Fund mission said it will recommend unfreezing a $30 billion bailout loan for Romania.

The leu rose as much as 0.4 percent to 4.1118 per euro, its strongest intraday level since Jan. 20. It traded little changed at 4.1259 as of 5:10 p.m. in Bucharest. The Romanian currency has advanced 2.6 percent this year.

An IMF team will recommend releasing 2.3 billion euros ($3.2 billion) of aid to Romania in February after the one- month-old government won parliamentary approval for the 2010 budget, Jeffrey Franks, head of the fund’s mission to Bucharest, told reporters today. Half of the sum will go to bolstering central bank foreign-exchange reserves, while the other half will supplement the state budget, he said.

“It looks like the IMF has given Romania a clean bill of health and this should help boost foreign inflows into the currency,” said Nigel Rendell, senior emerging-market strategist at RBC Capital Markets in London. “The leu seems to be everybody’s favorite in the region right now and there is talk about it going to 4 per euro in the coming weeks or month.”

The bailout package was frozen on Nov. 6 after political infighting toppled the government. The IMF demanded the formation of a new government and the passage of the budget before resuming payments. Prime Minister Emil Boc put together a Cabinet on Dec. 23 and lawmakers approved the spending and revenue plan on Jan. 14.

The Polish zloty weakened 0.6 percent to 4.0968 against the euro, Hungary’s forint lost 0.7 percent to 272.97 and the Czech koruna traded 0.7 percent lower at 26.212 against the common currency.

To contact the reporter on this story: Piotr Skolimowski in Warsaw atpskolimowski@bloomberg.net

Romanian president visits Moldova

By ALISON MUTLER and GEORGE JAHN
Associated Press
2010-01-28

Romania's president pledged to pull impoverished neighboring Moldova closer into Europe's orbit Wednesday, on a visit closely followed by the Kremlin, which considers Moldova part of its sphere of influence.

"We are totally relaunching our relations," President Traian Basescu's said on his first visit abroad since re-election late last year.

He added that he wanted the former Soviet republic integrated into the EU. He signed a 100-million euro (more than $140 million) nonrefundable loan for local community projects and pledged to open five new offices in the country to speed up formalities for Moldovans applying for citizenship in EU member Romania.

While Moldova is relatively insignificant in terms of natural wealth or a strong industrial base, it is strategically important to Russia, which opposes any erosion of its clout within former Soviet boundaries. It is particularly against NATO membership for former Soviet republics on its border _ Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. While most Moldovans oppose joining the Atlantic Alliance, Moscow is suspicious because membership within the EU often goes hand-in-hand with NATO membership.

Moldova was part of Romania until 1940, when it was annexed by the Soviet Union, and more than 80 percent of the population is ethnic Romanian. Still, loyalties to the Kremlin remain strong, and the country has mostly been governed since the 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union by communists loyal to Russia or other governments seeking to keep the country on a middle path between Moscow and Bucharest.

Backed by Russian troops, pro-Moscow separatists have been in control of the separatist enclave of Trans-Dniester since 1990. But Romania has become more attractive since it joined the EU in 2007, and Basescu is the first Romanian president to actively court its northeastern neighbor.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

BBC News: Romania 'tops EU sex worker list'

Romania has overtaken Russia as the top country of origin of migrant sex workers in the EU, a survey of prostitution across the EU has found.

In 2006 the top countries of origin were Russia, Ukraine and Romania - in that order, the Tampep network reports.

But in 2008 the top three were Romania, Russia and Bulgaria. Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007.

EU-funded Tampep collects data from welfare groups and public health bodies that monitor and help prostitutes.


Tampep's data collection is part of an effort to curb the spread of HIV/Aids and other sexually-transmitted diseases.

According to the survey, Central and Eastern Europe, including the Baltic and Balkan countries, account for around 70% of migrant sex workers in the 27-nation EU.

The next largest groups come from Africa (12%) and Latin America and the Caribbean (11%).

Tampep, which is based in Amsterdam, reports that about 70% of all sex workers in the older EU member states are migrants. The proportion of migrants is far smaller in the new member states which joined the EU in 2004 and 2007.

Italy, Spain, Austria and Luxembourg report that migrants comprise 80% to 90% of the sex worker population.

The greatest balance between migrants and nationals is found in Portugal (56% migrants) and the UK (41% migrants). In the UK, the highest concentration of migrant sex workers is in London - 80%.

"Since the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the EU, many migrant sex workers from these countries are less restricted due to their new legal situation," the report says.

"In addition, street work enables them to work occasionally and change their location when they choose, creating a higher degree of mobility."


Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/europe/8481355.stm

Romanian Main Interest Rate to Stay Above 6% in 2010, ING Says

By Adam Brown

Jan. 26 (Bloomberg) -- Romania’s central bank will keep the benchmark interest rate above 6 percent in 2010 as it misses its inflation target for a fourth year, ING Bank Romania forecast.

“Inflation will remain elevated in 2010,” Nicolaie Alexandru-Chidesciuc, chief economist at ING Romania, wrote in an e-mailed note today. “It is unlikely the key interest rate will fall below 6 percent during 2010 and we may see hikes already in the first quarter of 2011.”

Tobacco tax increases and continued lending increases pushed up the inflation rate to 4.7 percent last year, compared with a maximum 4.5 percent target. Alexandru-Chidesciuc predicts end-year inflation of 5 percent in 2010, compared with the goal of a maximum 3.5 percent. Since starting inflation targeting in 2006, the central bank has met its target once.

Inflation pressures will prevent the bank from large rate cuts this year even as it seeks to stimulate growth, Alexandru- Chidesciuc said. The government estimates the economy will grow 1.3 percent in 2010 after contracting about 7 percent last year.

The Banca Nationala a Romaniei has lowered its Monetary Policy Rate to 7.5 percent from 10.25 percent at the beginning of last year, the latest cut coming on Jan. 5. It next meets to debate rate changes on Feb. 4.

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

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Timişoara and the new face of Romania


It was in Timişoara that a week of protests led to the downfall of Ceauşescu. Twenty years on, this bright, culturally eclectic city proves there's more to urban Romania than brutal tower blocks

Ben Lerwill
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 26 January 2010


A temporary installation commemorates the anniversary of the revolution that deposed Nicolae Ceauşescu. Photograph: Ben Lerwill

It's fair to say that urban Romania has had its struggles as a tourist sell. Travellers to the country are usually drawn by either the expanse of the countryside – still seen as existing in a rolling horse-and-cart realm that western Europe left behind long ago – or the vampire legends (the Drac-allure?) of Transylvania. Its cities, on the other hand, are generally treated as bywords for gloom, grey skies and brutal tower-blocks.

It falls to the likes of Timişoara to counter preconceptions. Alongside Cluj-Napoca, Sibiu and the much-maligned capital Bucharest, the western city is among those Romanian centres to lay genuine claim to a bright and eclectic cultural offering. Its theatres,festivals and live music calendar give impressive platform to the national character, and in several parts of town (don't be alarmed, now) there's pretty scenery, too.

Last month, the city found headlines for other reasons. Twenty years ago, mass protests here jumpstarted the week-long revolution that deposed Nicolae Ceauşescu. The days running up to Christmas 1989 shaped an era, bloodily so, and you won't have to look far for someone keen to give you their own account of the period. Two decades on, however, this university town is as notable for its burgeoning arts scene and bold, age-worn architecture as for its political past. There's a youthful spring in its stride, too, evident in everything from a high-energy festival roster to a lively CouchSurfing community.

Today's marketing tag is "Little Vienna", and there's a wealth of genuinely grand Habsburg buildings, but the city's too much of a rough diamond for the comparison to be apt. This is not necessarily a bad thing. The handsome, cracked grandeur of the centre makes for a stirring backdrop, tourist traps are almost non-existent and costs are low. From a cultural viewpoint, meanwhile, omnipresent theatre bills and a trio of weekly listings magazines tell their own story.
Take in a festival October's annual TMBase festival

"Spring and summertime are when Timişoara really comes alive," says resident Manu Babescu, presenter of a weekly literary review on Romanian TV. "There are some great festivals." The pick of these is September's established three-day world music celebration Plai (www.plai.ro), headlined last year by the Ivorian singer Dobet Ghanoré and French rumba band Kaloomé. The festival, set in greenery on the city outskirts (plaimeans "field"), also stages a colourful programme of arts workshops and theatre performances. At other times of year, strong options include May's Timishort Film festival (www.timishort.ro), July's Romany Art festival (www.iraf.ro), October's electro-fest TMBase (www.tmbase.ro) and November's International Jazz festival (www.timisoara-jazz.ro). Beer, wine and drama are all the subject of annual shindigs of their own.
Live music

You're rarely far from music in Timişoara, whether it's tootling out of the Facultate de Muzica on Piaţa Libertăţii or drifting from speakers over civic spaces (someone on the council holds a flame for Whitesnake, it would seem). For a more involved experience, various options exist. Locals are still mourning the revoked license of Jazz Club Pod 16 in 2009, but venues such as Setup (Str Pestalozzi 22, www.setuptm.ro), The Note (Str Cornelia Salceanu 22, www.thenote.ro) and Van Graph (Str Matei Corvin 4,www.vangraph.ro) serve up a schedule of guitar bands, jazz, folk acts and electronica. Jazz's associations with freedom and western decadence meant that the genre was marginalised under Ceauşescu, so even today it remains a powerful mode of self-expression. For those who like music with their meals, meanwhile, there's quality fare and jaunty folklore to be had nightly at La Leul de Aur (Str Maraseti 12), while Porto Arte (B-dul 16 Decembrie 1989), a restaurant on a docked boat, stages lively traditional performances every Saturday.
High culture

The broad-shouldered opera complex on Piaţa Victoriei is the city's cultural hub. It houses three theatres and a princely 700-seat opera house (www.ort.ro), tickets for which cost a gloriously un-elitist £5, a steal even by Romanian standards. Expect to find classics such as Aida and Carmen on the schedule, and while it may offer a cheap night out, the 19th-century architecture and lavish decor mean the locals still dress up for the experience. For something more contemporary, the nearby philharmonic hall (www.filarmonicabanatul.ro) has concerts up to four times a week, ranging from blues to choral works. Elsewhere, galleries and public art are sprinkled over town, none more enjoyable than the Muzeul de Arta (www.muzeuldeartatm.ro) in the Old Prefecture – its permanent collection features more than 70 pieces by the darkly humorous portraitist Corneliu Baba.
Up all night

Timişoara's western location means it has sizeable Serbian, Hungarian and German minorities, as well as a cosmopolitan student mix, and the city has the kind of feisty nightlife options natural to a young, multicultural population. Away from the beat-fest of the clubs, Scârt Loc Lejer (Str Zoe 1) is a delightfully kooky pub in an old townhouse, owned and run by artists and boasting a large garden of fairy lights and hammocks: a fine setting for polishing off £4 bottles of local white wine. Komodo (Str Gh Lazar 5) is a busy Asian-themed lounge serving cocktails and cigars (Romania has no smoking ban), while Aethernative Cafe (at the top of Str Marasesti, through double doors beneath the "Sevander Grup" sign) hosts raucous jam sessions for a sociable, studenty crowd. A general word of warning: beware the power of the plum brandy (pălincă) if you're intending to function the next day.

• Wizz Air (www.wizzair.com) flies to Timişoara three times weekly from London Luton. Accommodation options include Hotel Lido (www.hotel-lido.ro, +40 256407373) and the centrally located Hotel Timişoara (www.hoteltimisoara.ro, +40 256498854).

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010

Romania seen receiving IMF/EU loans, struggling with cuts

By Radu Marinas and Luiza Ilie

BUCHAREST, Jan 25 (Reuters) - Romania is widely expected to win approval for delayed loan tranches from an International Monetary Fund-led rescue deal next month, but the government faces a tough task in enforcing cost-cutting reforms. 


Analysts say that after political turmoil in the recession-hit economy put the 20 billion euro ($28 billion) package on hold in November, mass sackings to shrink a bloated administration and planned fiscal reforms may be the next stumbling blocks.


"Playing with jobs, pensioners and the people's purchasing power has never been an easy task ... if public discontent rises nationwide, this could pose a real risk including to the (IMF) programme," said political analyst Bogdan Teodorescu.


Markets have been eagerly awaiting the disbursement of some 3.3 billion worth of IMF/EU loans, while economists say the sum would provide badly-needed budgetary funding and could allow the central bank to further stimulate the economy by cutting rates.


The IMF has a review mission in Bucharest until Jan. 27 to assess the European Union state's progress and is widely expected to give a green light to resumed payments.


"There are very big chances to get the money, but risks to the deal remain ... The ball is in our court. But we will need political consensus to further pursue reforms," said Ionut Dumitru of Raiffeisen Bank in Bucharest.


"Reaching a 5.9 percent budget deficit this year ... which implies state sector redundancies, is a very challenging goal."


Delays in approving pension reform and a fiscal responsibility bill have already pushed back implementation of the agreement and could threaten Romania's ambitious goal of trimming its fiscal deficit from 7.3 percent of gross domestic product in 2009.


Romania has also missed targets to lower government arrears and officials said the Fund was expected to set new deadlines.

NEW DEADLINES

Prime Minister Emil Boc, whose centrist coalition relies on a fragile majority in parliament, said on Sunday that a plan to overhaul the country's unsustainable communist-era pay-as-you-go pension system would be approved by the cabinet on Feb. 3.


Under the plan, Romania is seeking to index pensions to inflation rather than to average wages as at present, raise the retirement age and scrap special pensions for "privileged" public job categories.


Boc also said a fiscal responsibility law, to make public spending more efficient, enforce multi-annual budgetary planning and limit the number of budget revisions within a fiscal year, should be approved by the end of March.


Commentators expect the pension bill to face strong opposition from the powerful leftists who advocate a 12 percent hike against a nationwide, IMF-endorsed pay freeze this year.
Meanwhile, some trade unions have threatened to stage nationwide protests next month against plans to sack 100,000 state employees while others have demanded compensation equivalent to 12 months' pay for those whose jobs are axed.


"The only risk I see to the deal is political, the political commitment and will to lower the budget deficit," said Nicolaie Alexandru-Chidesciuc, chief economist at ING Bank in Bucharest.


"The impact of the layoffs on lowering the 2010 budget deficit will not be large because ... most of the savings will be erased by unemployment benefits and compensation pay."

Monday, January 25, 2010

Romania govt to OK IMF-required pension reform in Feb

Sun Jan 24, 2010

BUCHAREST, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Romania's centrist coalition government will send a bill that streamlines its bloated pension system to parliament for approval on Feb. 3, key to unlocking international aid, Prime Minister Emil Boc said on Sunday.

A fiscal responsibility law to make budget spending more efficient -- equally important to Romania's 20 billion euros aid package led by the International Monetary Fund -- should be approved by the end of the first quarter, Boc said.

Romania was initially supposed to approve the two laws by the end of last year, but failed to meet the deadline due to a months-long political crisis that spurred policy deadlock and prompted the IMF to put the deal on hold.

"There are two major responsibilities: to adopt the fiscal responsibility law by the end of March and to adopt the law that aims to reform the pension system in the next parliamentary session," Boc told reporters on Sunday.

Boc, which met IMF representatives on Saturday, added the government will approve the pension bill in a Feb. 3 meeting.

The Fund has a review mission in Bucharest to assess the European Union state's progress and analysts widely expect it to unlock as much as 3.3 billion euros worth of IMF/European Commission loan tranches as early as February.

"We hope that the entire amount will come sometime during the last week of February," Mihai Tanasescu, Romania's representative to the IMF told television channel Realitatea TV on Saturday.

The fiscal responsibility bill, which the government passed last month and is pending parliament approval, enforces the cabinet's obligation to pass multi-annual budgets and limits the number of budget revision within a fiscal year.

As for reforming its pay-as-you-go pension system, Romania aims to index pensions to inflation rather than to average wages at present, raise the retirement age and scrap special pensions for so called "privileged" public job categories. (Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Diane Craft)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

From Dada to Elvis, Andrei Codrescu has plenty to say

January 24, 2010

By Mark Hinson
DEMOCRAT SENIOR WRITER

In August 1997, the Romanian poet, essayist and National Public Radio commentator Andrei Codrescu delivered the closing address at a three-day conference about Elvis Presley in Memphis, Tenn., on the 20th anniversary of the famed singer's death.

The summit was an odd combo platter of academics, Elvis fans, Elvis friends, conspiracy theorists and assorted celebrities such as El Vez (the Mexican Elvis) and the Rev. Howard Finster (the Southern folk artist and fundamentalist preacher). Codrescu decided to discuss the way the media tried to de-sexualize, tame and neuter the hip-popping Presley when he exploded into the American mainstream in the mid-'50s. Codrescu called his talk "The King's ...." Well, let's just say privates.

The Rev. Finster was blushing and fidgeting by the time Codrescu wrapped things up.

"I had to sit through all these maniacs giving talks for three days, so I figured I owed them," Codrescu, 64, said last week in a phone interview from his apartment in New Orleans' French Quarter. "I remember the one guy there who was convinced that the FBI or the CIA had murdered Elvis. He had all these papers and 'proof' stuffed in a black briefcase — which is the typical, standard-issue briefcase preferred by maniacs everywhere."

Squirming and nervous laughter aside, the Elvis lecture was quintessential Codrescu — funny, playfully lewd, informed, slyly subversive, erudite and keenly insightful. Expect more of the same when Codrescu pays a visit to Florida State University to deliver a reading Tuesday night at The Warehouse.

"Codrescu is one of the best essayists working today," said writer, FSU professor and fellow NPR commentator Diane "D.K." Roberts. "His pieces for NPR twist and turn, spiral almost out of control and zing back on point again. It's like finding yourself in the middle of a cocktail party conversation between James Joyce, Oscar Wilde and Dorothy Parker. You can't believe the way the guy can bend language into such intricate, beautiful and funny shapes."

Roaming Romanians

The prolific Codrescu, who has published more than 40 books, said he plans to read selections from his latest collection of poetry ("Jealous Witness: New Poems") and excerpts from his new, critically acclaimed, unorthodox riff on art history called "The Posthuman Dada Guide: Tzara and Lenin Play Chess."

The Village Voice summed up the "Dada Guide" with a glowing review by stating: "(It's) a hard-edged, rapier-like volume, perfect for sliding into a back pocket of skinny hipster pants or stabbing into the complacent underbelly of bourgeois (or bourgeois-bohemian) society."

"It was a scholarly essay at first but I ended up leaving the scholarship behind," Codrescu said. "I was looking at a lot of stuff that other historians passed over. … I wanted to find out why young people are still inspired by Dada — whether it's punk, post-punk or what have you. There is something young and alive in Dada."

No doubt Codrescu also felt a direct connection with Dada because of Tristan Tzara, a fellow Romanian poet who also left his homeland to pursue the life of an artist in a foreign land. Codrescu moved to the United States in 1966. Tzara relocated to Switzerland while the rest of Europe was eating its own tail during World War I. The dictatorial Communist regime that ruled Romania after World War II tried its best to erase Tzara from the history books and public memory.

"Tristan Tzara was never mentioned when I was growing up in Romania," Codrescu said. "He was on the list of people whose names you couldn't put in crossword puzzles. I just knew his name, knew he was from Romania, knew he was famous in other countries. It set me dreaming. But I never read him (until coming to America)."

Forbidden books,'Exquisite Corpse'

In a piece titled "The Shameful Silence on Cuba by America's Librarians," Codrescu described his early days in Transylvania thus: "I was born in a place where people were forbidden to read most of what we consider the fundamental books of Western civilization. Being found in possession of a book such as George Orwell's '1984' could land one in prison for years. My good luck was to meet Dr. Martin in my adolescence. Dr. Martin was a retired professor who had collected and kept in his modest three-room apartment the best of interwar Romanian literature. In the Stalinist period any of the books in Dr. Martin's library could have earned him years of hard labor. In addition to owning them, he lent them to us, young high-school writers, who absorbed them thirstily and read them deeply because we knew what risks our older friend — and ourselves — were taking. I became a writer because I read forbidden books."

After escaping from Romania in 1965, Codrescu arrived in the United States in 1966 just as the hippie era was flourishing. He quickly made contact with proto-hippie Beat poets such as Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti before publishing his first book of English language poems, "License to Carry A Gun," in 1970. Codrescu even spent time living in the country near a commune on the Russian River north of San Francisco.

"I was too young for the country back then, too restless," Codrescu said. "Now I'm trying to get back to the country (at a cabin he owns in the Ozarks of Arkansas)."

After leaving the West Coast for the East Coast, Codrescu became a citizen of the U.S. in 1981 — around the same time he landed a job teaching writing and poetry at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. In 1983, Codrescu started the poetry journal Exquisite Corpse. The same year, he made his debut as a commentator on NPR reading a fairy tale about bears in his trademark Transylvanian accent. Listeners liked what they heard and suddenly Codrescu had a national audience. A stream of books quickly followed.

Honey and vinegar hybrid

After the Soviet Union crumbled and set off a domino effect across Eastern Europe, Codrescu returned to his homeland in 1989 to cover the Romanian Revolution for NPR and ABC News' "Nightline." He still keeps in close touch with Romanian writers and artists — particularly the new wave of neo-realist Romanian filmmakers who have found international audiences with movies such as "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu" and "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days."

"I think they are terrific (films)," Codrescu said. "These are hard, realistic pictures. They're telling tough stories in minimal and up-close ways. These are young people telling the stories of their parents. Their parents weren't able to tell these stories but they're looking right at it."

Codrescu had his own brush with the film world in 1993 when he made the humorous, feature-length documentary "Road Scholar" for MGM. The wry travelogue featured the bemused Codrescu learning to drive a big American automobile and, after getting a blessing from Ginsberg, taking off on a cross-country tour of America's backroads and heartland. It was more than a dozen years before Sacha Baron Cohen made a mint doing a similar thing in the fictionalized "Borat" (2006).

" 'Borat' was 'Road Scholar' without a heart," Codrescu said. "He had no compassion for the people. I laughed at 'Borat' but it was just a crude satire."

In 2009, Codrescu retired from his teaching post at Louisiana State University to write and spend more time at his Arkansas retreat. He's currently putting the finishing touches on another hybrid book called "The Poetry Lesson" that's part memoir, part essay and part fiction.

"It's funny. My colleagues might not like it, but I think it's funny," Codrescu said and chuckled. "It's honey and vinegar — a portrait of a hopeless profession that's done with a lot of affection for the poems and for the students."


Contact senior writer Mark Hinson at 599-2164 or mhinson@tallahassee.com.

Is Romania's President Dabbling In The Occult?

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Transmission


When Traian Basescu was reelected Romanian president by a thread in December, everyone, friend or foe, said he owed his victory to a handful of Romanian expats’ votes. Basescu himself thanked those living abroad for their support, while his leftist adversaries suggested expats should not be allowed to vote anymore.

One would have thought that, after one of the dirtiest election campaigns in postcommunist history, those in power and the opposition alike would finally turn their attention to the crippling crisis choking the economy of the EU’s second poorest country. Right?

Wrong. Several weeks ago, taking a short break from opulent traditional Christmas grub and thick-red Romanian wine, a prominent leftist politician close to ex-presidential candidate Mircea Geoana cracked on TV what everyone thought to be a joke: that Basescu’s victory was facilitated by an occult “violet flame,” and that his wearing a purple necktie or a purple sweater during the campaign was no accident or fashion statement, but a way of using “negative energy.”

People stopped from feasting for a moment, laughed and then resumed partying.

But the “violet flame” wouldn’t go away. Geoana, still reeling from his defeat, came up publicly with what many dismissed as just a ridiculous accusation, unworthy of a former diplomat and foreign minister: that he had been targeted by waves of no less than “negative energy” during the final live debate before the runoff that was won by Basescu.

His wife, Mihaela, said the attack was so powerful that Geoana’s concentration was broken. Many said Geoana was just adding insult to injury with his incredible statements.

But then video footage showed a mystery character who media said was a shady parapsychologist, Aliodor Manolea, walking right behind Basescu as he entered the debate hall. Then, photos were published of the same Manolea standing close to Basescu during the campaign.

In a country where magic and the occult have deep roots in popular beliefs, the story of the president’s healer and the violet flame has bumped from the headlines other less important stories such as the IMF delegation’s visit, critical for Romania securing a lifeline loan, or the meager budget law.

Basescu and the party behind him, the center-right PDL, at first dismissed the accusations as loony. But then they failed to explain the parapsychologist’s presence in the footage and photos, and what began as a slightly amusing story has now become an embarrassment for Geoana and Basescu alike.

Folk traditions aside, there is another reason why Romanians became so interested in the story. Mircea Geoana’s unbelievable statements about his being “hexed” by Basescu proved that the country had been at a hair’s distance from electing as president a politician whose diplomatic credentials did not do much to hide an immature and narrow-minded character.

For his part, Basescu will also have to explain sooner or later the healer’s presence in the presidential camp during the debate. So far, that did not happen.

-- Eugen Tomiuc

Friday, January 22, 2010

Zap! Was Romanian election loser victim of occult?

By ALISON MUTLER and GEORGE JAHN
The Associated Press
Friday, January 22, 2010; 6:56 AM


BUCHAREST, Romania -- Was a top contender for the Romanian presidency zapped out of the race by a shadowy parapsychologist enlisted by his rival?

The claim might be dismissed as preposterous in most other EU countries. But here in Romania, home of Dracula and other occult traditions, Mircea Geoana's assertion that a "negative energy attack" led to his narrow loss to re-elected President Traian Basescu has been the talk of the nation.

"The Evil Witch defeated Geoana," wrote the daily Evenimentul Zilei in a recent commentary typical of the buzz. "Romanian politicians really believe that magic forces can make you president or can destroy you.

"May the Force be with us!"

Like most former Soviet bloc nations, Romania is used to rough and tumble politics and the first claims and counterclaims after Basescu's narrow Dec. 6 runoff victory were nothing out of the ordinary, with Geoana's people complaining of massive fraud.

Then came the startling allegation: Geoana, in media interviews last week, asserted he was targeted by waves of negative energy during a key debate just before the runoff that was won by Basescu.

"People who were working for Basescu in this domain were present to the right of the camera," Geoana told Antena 3 Television. His wife, Mihaela said Geoana "was very badly attacked, he couldn't concentrate."

At first Romanians mocked their ex-foreign minister saying he was a bad loser. Basescu himself jokingly dismissed the allegations. But the recent publication of photos showing well-known parapsychologist Aliodor Manolea close to Basescu during the campaign has caused Romanians to wonder whether the president really did put a hex on his rival.

The photos show Manolea, a slightly built, bearded man with a round face and cropped receding hair, walking yards (meters) behind Basescu ahead of the debate. Manolea's specialties include deep mind control, clairvoyance and hypnotic trance, according to the Romanian Association of Transpersonal Psychology.

For weeks, Basescu's office declined to comment on Manolea, with officials referring inquiries to the Liberal Democratic Party that supported the president. Officials there gave evasive answers - but not outright denials.

In comments published Friday, Basescu spokesman Sever Voinescu said he knew Manolea but that the parapschycologist did not take part in campaign staff meetings. Voinescu also said he did not discuss Manolea with Basescu.

"I am not clear what this person was doing next to President Basescu," he told the daily Cotidianul.

Manoela's alleged role in the elections evokes age-old Balkan rituals where the evil eye, witch doctors and other mysterious forces were used to launch mystic energy attacks on opponents and sap hapless victims of their vital strength.

While such superstitions are now usually found only in the most backward rural pockets of the Balkans, belief in the paranormal spawned some unusual practices up to recent times.

Former Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was so terrified of even traditional psychologists he feared were a threat to communism that he abolished psychology departments across the country and banned the word from the official dictionary.

In 1982, he staged a crackdown against people who were allegedly practicing transcendental meditation, purging the interior ministry and dismissing scores of officials who were allegedly involved, including a deputy interior minister.

In neighboring Serbia, Col. Ljubodrag Stojadinovic, a former army spokesman, was discharged after divulging that the military had a parapsychology unit in the 1990s under ex-President Slobodan Milosevic that launched psychic attacks on the United States and other enemies.

"Group 69," which Stojadinovic said included publicly known fortune tellers and witches, claimed to have inflicted "heavy losses" against the enemy with its tactics, including downing aircraft. He said one of the group's main tasks was to capture at least one senior "enemy of the Serbs" - the U.S. president, for instance.

Neither the Serbian government nor the military has issued a denial of Stojadinovic's claims.

Wartime Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic was said to have believed in witchcraft and actively participated in paranormal activities. Now on trial for at the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, he was arrested in July 2008 in Belgrade disguised as a New Age guru.

To the south, former Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski employed a parapsychologist and medium known simply as Mina, as an official Cabinet adviser. Some Macedonians - who widely consult fortune tellers and astrologists - believe Mina helped Georgievski avoid full-blown civil war between Slavic Macedonians and the nation's ethnic Albanians.

"It is not strange in Macedonia for people to have their alternative personal advisers," said Mirjna Stojanovska, a 28-year-old German language teacher. "It is part of our mentality and culture to call upon a higher power to help people cope with the problems in life."

In a further twist to Romania's presidential intrigue, photos reveal Manolea amid Geoana's entourage during a 2007 electoral campaign, suggesting the clairvoyant may have been inclined to offer his services to anyone willing to pay the fee.

There has been no comment from Geoana, who in recent days has moved to distance himself from the topic in an attempt to limit dents to his credibility. An e-mail to the reclusive parapsychologist was not answered.

Reputed Romanian psychologist Aurora Liiceanu says the region remains a fertile breeding ground for such superstitions even while seeming to adopted an outward veneer of cynicism more in keeping with the rest of Europe.

"This society is inclined to the irrational; it is a culture of superstitious people," said Liiceanu. "Luck has a great role here, it is a force.

"Luck and destiny."

---

Jahn reported from Vienna. Associated Press writers Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Serbia, and Kostantin Testorides in Skopje, Macedonia, contributed to this report.

IMF Says It Will Probably Unfreeze Romania’s Bailout Loan

By Irina Savu and Adam Brown

Jan. 21 (Bloomberg) -- The International Monetary Fund said it will probably resume payments of its $30 billion bailout loan for Romania, frozen last year during political turmoil.

“We’re in discussions for the conditions for the disbursement” of more funds, Jeffrey Franks, head of an IMF mission to Bucharest, told reporters after visiting Romania’s central bank today. “I have reasons to believe it will go ahead.”

Teams from the Washington-based lender and the European Union started a seven-day visit to the Romanian capital yesterday to decide whether to resume payments of the loan, which also includes contributions from the World Bank and other international lenders. The package was frozen on Nov. 6 after the government collapsed because of infighting.

The IMF demanded the formation of a new government and the passage of the 2010 budget before resuming payments. Romania formed a government under Prime Minister Emil Boc on Dec. 23 and Parliament approved the spending and revenue plan on Jan. 14.

Standard & Poor’s on Jan. 13 said passage of the budget and resumption of the IMF loan may trigger an increase in Romania’s credit rating outlook. The EU’s second-poorest member is rated BB+ at S&P, the highest junk grade, with a negative outlook.


Improve Sentiment


The Balkan nation is looking abroad to finance its shortfall to take advantage of improved investor sentiment after the new government was formed. Romania aims to sell 1 billion euros in euro-denominated bonds in the first quarter and more later in the year.

The leu, which has risen since lawmakers approved the budget, fell 0.1 percent against the euro to 4.1437 as of 12:50 p.m. in Bucharest today. The benchmark BET stock index fell 0.8 percent.

Franks earlier said Romania’s government may be able to use part of the next tranches of the bailout loan to finance the budget deficit.

“We’re going to discuss dividing the money in the coming days and no decision has been made yet on that,” he told Bloomberg.

When signing the loan agreement last year, the IMF stipulated Romania must place the money in central bank reserves. As the budget gap widened at the end of the year, the lender allowed half of the last tranche, a 1.9 billion-euro ($2.7 billion) installment paid last July, to be used to cover the shortfall.

The delayed tranche of 1.5 billion euros plus a payment of 800 million euros that was scheduled for March may be disbursed in February, the IMF said last week. The EU also said last week it will decide whether to send a delayed 1 billion-euro installment.

The budget approved by Parliament last week targets a deficit of 5.9 percent of gross domestic product, down from an estimated gap of 7.3 percent last year. Both figures comply with IMF conditions. The budget freezes wages for 1.3 million state workers, targets 100,000 job cuts and lowers infrastructure investments by 28 percent.

Romania to send 600 more troops to Afghanistan

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania will send 600 more troops to Afghanistan this year, boosting its military presence there to more than 1,600 soldiers, the Supreme Defence Council said on Thursday.

Romania, the second poorest country in the European Union and a NATO member since 2004, has been a staunch ally of Washington in its military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan it has 982 soldiers as part of NATO's ISAF mission and another 38 taking part in the Enduring Freedom coalition's operations.

The NATO-led military mission is expected to be expanded rapidly in 2010 with the arrival of 30,000 more American troops.

The Romanian defence council has also set a limit of 3,753 for the overall number of Romanian troops that can participate in missions outside its territory this year.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

IMF may raise Romania 2010 growth view - paper

BUCHAREST, Jan 21 (Reuters) - The International Monetary Fund is in talks with Romania over an upward revision of its 2010 economic growth forecast of 1.3 percent, Bucharest's IMF representative in Washington was quoted as saying by a newspaper. 

The IMF started a one-week review mission in Bucharest on Wednesday and is expected to unlock a 20 billion euro ($28 billion) international aid deal after the swift approval of a tight 2010 budget earlier this month.


"The last number was 1.3 percent, but at this moment it is being discussed whether this potential growth is real or can be hiked," Mihai Tanasescu was quoted as saying in Thursday's edition of financial daily Ziarul Financiar.


The IMF put its deal with Bucharest on hold last year due to a months-long political crisis which ended with a presidential election and the appointment of a centrist cabinet which promised to respect its international commitments.


Markets have so far been buoyed by the prospect of the disbursement of about 3.3 billion euros in aid tranches from the IMF and the European Commission and the leu has outperformed regional currencies this year.


At 0802, the leu traded at 4.135 per euro, virtually flat from the previous close.

EIB lends Ford Romania euro400 million to upgrade plant, develop low-;

BRUSSELS (AP) - The European Investment Bank on Thursday granted Ford Romania SA euro400 million ($563 million) to make 600,000 environmentally-friendly cars and engines a year.

It also granted Ford euro200 million for research into the small cars it will make at the Craiova plant in southwestern Romania. The research funding will benefit Ford facilities in Germany.

The EIB said the Craiova plant will make "a new small, advanced-technology petrol engine with low fuel consumption."

Ford bought the plant from the Romanian government in 2008. The company makes light vans there and is expected to start making the new B-Max, similar to the subcompact Fiesta, at the plant this year.

Once fully in use, the plant will employ 7,000 people and make up to 300,000 cars and 300,000 engines a year up to EU safety and carbon-dioxide emission standards.

EIB Vice President Matthias Kollatz Ahnen said in a statement the loans will help Romania weather the economic crisis and contribute to the production of greener cars.

The loan comes at time of deep crisis for Europe's car makers.

The Luxembourg-based EIB is the European Union's long-term financing arm for economic development projects.

It issues grants and soft loans. Last year it made Europe's ailing car sector a priority area, granting it a total of euro8.2 billion ($11.5 billion).

In 2009, Dacia Beats the Level of 300,000 Cars Sold Worldwide

PITESTI-COLIBASI, ROMANIA – January 20, 2010: In 2009, Dacia sold 311,282 cars, i.e. 20.5% more than the 258,372 units recorded in 2008. This is thus the 5th year in a row when the sales growth rhythm is 2 figured; therefore from less than 100,000 cars sold in 2004, they got to over 300,000 units in 2009.

In its home market down by 53,2%, Dacia sold 41,862 cars, obtaining a market share of 28.9%, i.e. up by 1.5 points compared to 2008.

The best sold product of the Dacia range in Romania was Logan sedan, with 25.722 units, followed by Sandero (Stepway version included) with 6.765 units, and Logan MCV with 6,249 units. With respect to commercial vehicles, Dacia sold 1,588 units Logan VAN and 1,538 Logan Pick Up.

In its commercial policy, Dacia permanently tried to offer the best price for its models and presented the advantages of quality and reliability for its products, features confirmed by the most recent surveys on client satisfaction.

In 2009, Dacia supported the national scrappage program making an offer called “Dacia Advantage”. More than 18,000 Dacia cars were sold within this campaign.

The evolution of the Dacia commercial offer continued in 2009. A new petrol engine, 1.2 16 V, 75HP, with reduced fuel consumption and low CO2 emission level came out in the Dacia product range. Trying to conquer a new public, Dacia added Sandero Stepway and the limited series Kiss FM, available for Sandero and Logan sedan.

Powerful dynamics of exports

Dacia export sales reached almost 270,000 units, up by 56.1% compared to 2008. Dacia consolidated its success on the Western European market, where in 2009 there were registered 200,962 vehicles.

Three western countries are listed as top Dacia exports. Germany became in 2009 the first market destination of the brand, with 84,708 units sold (+231.3% compared to 2008). Second-ranked is France, with 65,956 units (+51.4%), followed by Italy, with 21,739 vehicles (+151.9%). In 2009, Dacia obtained a market share of 2.13% in Germany, 2.5% in France and 0.93% in Italy.

Among other export destinations, there also are Algeria (17,327 units), Turkey (9,727 units) and Spain

18,112 units were sold in Morocco, where Logan is produced in the SOMACA factory from Casablanca.
(9,030 units).

Source: http://www.theautochannel.com/news/2010/01/20/462421.html

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Romanian Central Banker Sees ‘Good’ Chance of IMF Loan Resuming

By Radoslav Tomek and Adam Brown

Jan. 20 (Bloomberg) -- Romania has an “extremely good” chance of unblocking a $30 billion international bailout package after Parliament passed an austerity budget that meets lenders’ demands, central bank Vice Governor Cristian Popa said.

“The situation of political stability has been sorted out,” Popa told reporters at a conference in Vienna today. “The budget has been approved under the terms agreed with the European Commission and the IMF.”

Teams from the International Monetary Fund and the European Union start a seven-day visit to Bucharest today to decide whether to unfreeze payments under the loan package, which also includes contributions from the World Bank and other international lenders.

The package was frozen on Nov. 6 after the government collapsed because of infighting. The IMF demanded the formation of a new government and passage of a budget before resuming payments. Romania formed a government under Prime Minister Emil Boc on Dec. 23 and Parliament passed the budget on Jan. 14.

The leu, which has risen since Parliament passed the budget, fell 0.2 percent against the euro to 4.1189 as of 12:06 p.m. in Bucharest today. The benchmark BET stock index gained 1 percent.

Tonny Lybek, the IMF representative in Romania, said on Jan. 15 that the mission will visit central bank and government officials and review the country’s compliance with 2009 conditions plus the 2010 budget.


Delayed Payments


He also said the IMF may decide to send the delayed tranche of 1.5 billion euros ($2.13 billion) plus a tranche of 800 million euros that was scheduled for March. The EU said last week it will decide whether to send a delayed tranche of 1 billion euros.

The budget approved by Parliament targets a deficit of 5.9 percent of gross domestic product, compared with an estimated gap of 7.3 percent last year. Both deficit figures are meant to comply with IMF conditions. The budget freezes wages for the 1.3 million state workers, targets job cuts of 100,000 and cuts infrastructure investments by 28 percent.

Popa also said the budget-deficit target implied the chances of meeting the 2010 inflation goal of between 2.5 percent and 4.5 percent are “very high,” even after increases in excise taxes drove up inflation to an end-year rate of 4.7 percent. The central bank targeted inflation of 4.5 percent or slower last year.

Popa also said the central bank’s main interest rate, which was cut to 7.5 percent from 8 percent on Jan. 5, “at this point is appropriate. We have always had a policy of reasonably smooth steps. I don’t see why that needs to change.”


Ratings Upgrade


Standard & Poor’s rating agency said on Jan. 13 that budget approval may trigger an improvement in Romania’s credit rating outlook. The EU’s second-poorest member is rated BB+ at S&P, the highest junk grade, with a negative outlook.

The Balkan nation is looking abroad to finance its shortfall to take advantage of improved investor sentiment after a new government was formed. Romania aims to sell 1 billion euros in euro-denominated bonds in the first quarter and more later in the year.

Editors: James M. Gomez, Jennifer Freedman

To contact the reporter on this story: Radoslav Tomek in Bratislava at +421-2-5292-1227 or rtomek@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Kirkham at +44 20 7673-2464 or ckirkham@bloomberg.net.

Taiwan investigates ammunition scandal involving Romanian presidential family

Ammunition destined for destruction in Bulgaria ended up in Angola: Reports

Taiwan News, Staff Writer
2010-01-20

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – The Ministry of National Defense said Wednesday it would file legal action if media reports alleging the illegal sale of its old ammunition to Angola via the Romanian presidential family were true.

Next Magazine alleged in its latest edition that relatives of Romanian President Traian Basescu repackaged expired Taiwanese ammunition destined for destruction in Bulgaria and sold it to the African nation of Angola.

More than 8,000 tons of grenades, mines and other old ammunition should have been destroyed, but the Romanians took 1,884 tons before presidential elections there last year, Next said.

The military would request information from Explomo Technical Services, the Singapore-based company which won the contract to destroy the ammunition, said Wang Kuo-wu, director of the Procurement Center at the Armaments Bureau under the defense ministry.

If the media reports turned out to be true, the military would take the necessary legal action, Wang said. First it would abrogate the contract, then demand the repayment of the fees and guarantee deposits stipulated by the contract, and file a compensation demand. The likelihood of forgery would also be investigated, he said.

Wang emphasized that the Ministry of National Defense was extremely careful about planning and supervising the handling of old ammunition. In May last year, military representatives traveled to Bulgaria to supervise the execution of the contract, which was completed in August, according to Wang.

Maxam, the Bulgarian company handling the case, had to provide a daily list of the destroyed ammunition accompanied by pictures, he said.

The ministry had also asked two companies, one Taiwanese and one foreign, to provide monthly reports about the handling of the weaponry.

Romania cbanker sees modest growth in 2010

BUCHAREST, Jan 20 (Reuters) - Romania's economy will grow at a modest pace this year, deputy central bank Governor Cristian Popa said on Wednesday, compared with an expected contraction of around 7 percent in 2009. 

"For 2010 we are forecasting a modest positive growth," Popa told reporters in Vienna.
The International Monetary Fund, which starts a one-week visit to Bucharest on Wednesday to review Romania's progress in meeting conditions attached to a 20 billion euro aid agreement, sees the economy growing by 1.3 percent this year.


The disbursement of about 3.3 billion euros worth of IMF and European Commission combined tranches is widely priced in by financial markets, following the approval of an austerity 2010 budget frozen because of political turmoil last year.


Like most of its regional peers, Romania's economy was hammered by shrinking demand for its goods in the euro zone and a drop in domestic consumption following a virtual freeze in lending.

Romania smashes human trafficking ring -prosecutor

BUCHAREST, Jan 18 (Reuters) - Romanian police have broken up a network suspected of smuggling women to western Europe and charged 30 people with human trafficking and Internet fraud, an organised crime prosecutor said on Monday.

The group, known as the Cordunenilor Gang after the family alleged to control it, operated in Italy, Spain, Germany, Britain and Ireland, a prosecutor from the northern city of Iasi told Reuters by telephone. He declined to be identified by name.The group's victims were sexually exploited, obliged to become beggars or forced into pickpocket gangs in major European cities, he said.

In recent years, several such rings have been dismantled in the Balkan country, which joined the European Union in 2007 and is the bloc's second poorest state after Bulgaria.Romania aims to join the EU's Schengen zone of passport-free travel in 2011. Strengthening the fight against cross-border crime is one of the conditions for joining the area. (Reporting by Ioana Patran; Editing by Paul Taylor)

DPA: Romania presses EU on Moldova membership hopes


Bucharest - Romanian President Traian Basescu received new European Union President Herman van Rompuy for talks Monday evening, with the Bucharest leader putting in a good word for neighbouring country Moldova's EU membership aspirations. 


Basescu urged the EU to provide clear prospects to Moldova on future membership.It was an important political signal for Romania itself for Moldova to be taken on in the EU's expansion plans for the western Balkans region, the Romanian leader said."Moldova needs positive signals as well as financial and political support," he told van Rompuy, who was in Bucharest for a brief visit.

Historically, Romania has close ties with its neighbour, where 60 per cent of the population consist of ethnic Romanians. Up till 1940 almost the entire area of modern-day Moldova had belonged to Romania.

Bucharest's ties with the recently-defeated communist leadership in Moldova had been tense, but Romania is now hoping for better relations with the new centrist government in Chisinau.Other issues in Basescu's talks with van Rompuy included a review of the global economic crisi, EU policy towards the Danube River and Black Sea region states, and the planned Nabucco gas pipeline.

Leu to Beat Forint on Growth, Morgan Stanley Says

By Piotr Skolimowski

Jan. 19 (Bloomberg) -- The leu may strengthen about 7 percent against the forint within three months as Romania’s economy outperforms Hungary’s and its interest rates remain “more attractive,” according to Morgan Stanley.

Investors should buy the leu against the forint, Gyula Pleschinger, an emerging-market strategist at Morgan Stanley in London, wrote in a note to clients today. The exchange rate may move toward 69-70 forint per leu “over the next quarter,” according to the bank. The leu fell 0.1 to 65.065 per forint as of 5:10 p.m. in Bucharest.

“Romanian growth will clearly outperform Hungary in the coming years,” Pleschinger wrote. The so-called carry-trade in the leu is more attractive than in the forint, while central bank support for the leu in the market is more “currency friendly.” he wrote.

The pace of Romania’s economic contraction slowed in the third quarter to an annual 7.1 percent from 8.7 percent in the second quarter, with most of the improvement coming in manufacturing. The economy will probably grow 1.3 percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Romania’s central bank unexpectedly cut its main interest rate this month to 7.5 percent, still the highest level in the European Union, signaling policy makers’ confidence that political turmoil is easing and boosting the outlook for recovery. Morgan Stanley predicted the rate will drop another 1.25 percentage points by the end of the year.

Rate Outlook

Hungary has reduced its key rate by more than a third in the past six months to revive the economy. The benchmark rate is now 6.25 percent. Morgan Stanley forecast another 0.75 percentage-point cut in the easing cycle. The economy contracted an annual 6.7 percent last year, the most since 1991, and will probably keep shrinking this year, government estimates show.

Romania’s lawmakers in December approved a new government and last week passed an austerity budget that may pave the way for the resumption of a $29 billion international bailout loan. Hungary, the first EU member to obtain an international bailout in 2008, holds parliamentary elections in the second quarter of this year.

“Political risk abated in Romania after the swift formation of the new government, while the pre-election trading environment could still be noisy in Hungary,” according to Morgan Stanley, which changed its stance on the leu versus the euro to “constructive” from “neutral.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Piotr Skolimowski in Warsaw atpskolimowski@bloomberg.net

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Romania’s gallows humour

Twenty years on from the fall of Ceausescu, Romanian filmmakers are finally learning how to make people laugh about their country’s dark past

Brian Semple
www.prospectmagazine.co.uk 


On Christmas day 1989, people across the world turned on their televisions to see Nicolae Ceausescu, president of Romania’s brutal communist government, shot dead with his wife by a firing squad from his own army. Ceausescu had been in power for 24 years, but his regime unraveled in just four days: protests and rioting on 21st December forced him to flee Bucharest in a helicopter, before he was arrested by the Romanian army, sentenced to death by a military court for crimes ranging from genocide to corruption, and promptly shot.

Their execution was one of the most shocking and memorable moments of the end of the cold war, yet despite the many column inches dedicated this year to the fall of the Berlin wall, there has been little attention given to the 20th anniversary of Ceausescu’s demise. But if the west has been slow to remember the tumultuous end to Romania’s “golden age” (as Ceausescu described his reign), a new generation of film directors who grew up in that era are determined to ensure it is not forgotten.

Foremost among them is Cristian Mungiu, whose first major film 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days won the Palme D’Or at Cannes in 2007. A harrowing but mesmerising account of a backstreet abortion (under Ceausescu abortion was outlawed to combat low birth rates), the film was conceived as the part of a cycle of stories based on Romania in the latter years of Ceausescu’s regime. The second installment, Tales from the Golden Age(also the name of the trilogy), was released in October, and, in contrast to 4 Months, is a darkly comic take on the lives of ordinary Romanians struggling to survive under a chaotic and absurd regime. It shows the residents of a tiny village desperately painting trees, scrubbing cows and paving roads in preparation for an official party visit that never transpires. A panicked state photographer scrambles to prevent the daily newspaper going to press after he realises it features a picture of a hatless Ceausescu alongside the be-hatted French president (thus suggesting capitalism’s superiority over communism). And a policeman who has been given a live pig by a relative for Christmas devises a crazy plan to gas the animal in his tiny apartment without attracting the attention of his hungry neighbours.

Mungiu was 21 when Ceausescu was overthrown, and says that it took nearly two decades before he and other filmmakers could take a light-hearted look back at the regime. “The first Romanian films which were made about communism just after the fall of the Berlin Wall were very bad—just author’s comments about communism through the mouths of their characters. Now we are making films about the period with way less anger. Humour is what helped Romanians survive the period, so we thought a comedy is a possible way of looking back.” But even today, he says, there are lots of Romanians who refuse to accept that you can make a comedy about communism.

The film is principally a celebration of the lives of ordinary Romanians from that time; of their ability to bargain and hustle their way around the oppressive state, and the creativity with which they adapted in order to survive. Mungiu previously worked as a journalist and a teacher, and there is something of both the reporter and the educator in the way he strives to record the trials and tribulations of everyday life. “I wanted to make sure that I told stories I remembered from that period before I forgot the small details, and this also serves the purpose of preserving these memories as a subjective document for the generations to come.” He admits that the film doesn’t appeal to young people who didn’t live through that time the same way it appeals to those over 40. “But my feeling is that [young people] still understand more about communism from such films than from a history book.”

If there is a certain amount of nostalgia in Tales from a Golden Age, Mungiu emphasises that it is not for Ceausescu or his regime, and he deliberately chose to make the darker4 Months before Tales, despite writing the latter’s screenplay first. “The nostalgia refers to the days of our youth and by no means to the ‘communist era.’ It just so happens that they overlap, and therefore people sometimes we imagine that we regret [the passing of] the epoque. Not at all, I have to say.”

There is, however, one thing from Ceausescu’s era that Mungiu is nostalgic for: the cinemas. Currently there are some 30 cinema screens in the whole of Romania serving over 21m people, whereas in communist times there were over 800. And while no one would describe Ceausescu’s regime as a good one for filmmakers, when only heavily censored state-sponsored propaganda films were allowed onto screens, at least the films made then were actually watched by ordinary Romanians. Now, Mungiu says, “you can’t reach too many people.”

There are also scarce funds available to support Romanian directors, and Mungiu suggests that this could be the result of jealousy at the success of his generation. “There has been a kind of reaction against this generation from older directors. The Romanian film authorities didn’t do anything to speculate the movement and improve the financing or the releasing system.”

Nor have things improved since Romania gained EU membership—ironically, film directors now find themselves hamstrung by a combination of new European regulations and old attitudes lingering from pre-capitalist Romania. “It is has made it more difficult now to get state money because of the EU regulations and because of the incompetence of the Romanian authorities…the general feeling in Romania, including the feeling of the organisations promoting Romania abroad, is that films are a public good and nobody should have to pay to use them or screen them publicly.” So while the country’s cinema may truly be in its “golden age,” the current generation’s films are being seen by less Romanians than ever before. It is the kind of farcical situation that the protagonists of Mungiu’s vignettes could well appreciate.

Tales from the Golden Age will be released on DVD on 5th February 2010.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Romanian claims negative energy lost him election

The Associated Press
Monday, January 18, 2010; 6:25 AM

BUCHAREST, Romania -- In the latest bizarre claim to come out of Romania's presidential race last year, the loser and his wife have claimed he was subject to attacks of negative energy by aides of President Traian Basescu during a crucial debate.

Former Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana who lost the Dec. 6 runoff, claimed Basescu ordered the attacks against him, Mediafax news agency reported Monday.

"During the Dec. 3 debate ... people who were working for Basescu in this domain were present to the right of the camera. ... I saw them and I know who they are," Geoana told Antena 3 television. Geoana fared badly in parts of the debate.

His wife Mihaela Geoana said Saturday her husband "was very badly attacked, he couldn't concentrate."

Former President Ion Iliescu dismissed the allegations as "discussions for naive people, for uneducated people," according to Monday's edition of the daily Gandul.

Geoana aide Viorel Hrebenciuc has previously alleged there was a "violet flame" conspiracy during the campaign. He said Basescu dressed in purple on Thursdays to increase his chance of victory.

Asked about the violet connection, Basescu joked earlier this month that "it was the color of the year" in 2009.

Basescu narrowly won the election. Geoana's Social Democracy Party claimed the ballot was marred by fraud.

For a good cause....Special Benefit on February 27, 2010


Romanian Children’s Relief
Fundatia Inocenti
11 Latisquama Road, Southborough

MA 01772
(508) 303-6299
www.RCR.org
RomanianChildrensRelief@gmail.com
______________________________________________

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Eileen McHenry
508-303-6299
RomanianChildrensRelief@gmail.com



Hand Held Documentary
produced by
Academy Award-nominated filmmaker, Don Hahn, follows founder of Boston Relief Group, Mike Carroll



Carroll is also author of the book, Picturing the Possible


SOUTHBOROUGH, MA, Dec. 6, 2009 – Hand Held is the new documentary film produced and directed by two-time Academy Award nominated filmmaker, Don Hahn. The film follows Mike Carroll, a Pepperell, MA-based photographer whose incredible photos in THE BOSTON GLOBE opened the eyes of the world to the Romanian AIDS and orphans crisis in 1990 and also led to the start of Romanian Children’s Relief, an award-winning charity now serving 1,600 Romanian children and families each year.

Hand Held is the story of Mike Carroll’s 20 year odyssey working to bring help to a population of children in need, in a country he hardly knew. It is a glimpse of the horror of a communist dictatorship and the possibilities within each and every one of us to be the change that we hope for in the world.

On Saturday, February 27, 2010, there will be a special Benefit Screening of Hand Held at WGBH Studios, Boston. Tickets are available for $75 or $150 on the Romanian Children’s Relief website at www.RCR.org. Event sponsorships are also available.

Director Hahn has been shooting in Boston, Bucharest and Transylvania for nearly two years on this extraordinary motion picture about one guy with a camera, a band of New Englanders, a hundred and sixty thousand orphans, and the unforgettable story of how they changed each other’s lives forever.

Mike Carroll is also the author of the soon to be released, Picturing the Possible, a personal account of the start of Romanian Children’s Relief and Fundatia Inocenti, told through an incredible collection of beautiful photographs taken by Carroll in Romania over the past 20 years.

Romanian Children’s Relief (RCR) is a 501c3 charity supporting Romanian children and families to prevent child abandonment. With an annual budget of $250,000 a band of thrifty New Englanders continues to support the work of 22 Romanian staff, a part time US-based administrator and more than 400 volunteers working with 1,600 children in Romania each year.

Hand Held is produced by Stone Circle Pictures. For more information and to view the trailer, go to www.HandHeldthemovie.com

Leu May Gain on Romanian Budget, Commerzbank Says

Jan. 15 (Bloomberg) -- The leu may extend gains after Romania’s parliament approved a 2010 budget, increasing the chances that a $29 billion international bailout loan will resume next month, Commerzbank AG said today.

The currency is likely to strengthen to 4 against the euro “in the near future,” Germany’s second-largest bank wrote in a client note. That level would be a 2.6 percent appreciation from the rate of 4.1058 per euro at which the leu traded as of 5:10 p.m. in Bucharest. The leu has advanced 1.4 percent this week for the biggest appreciation among 25 emerging-market currencies tracked by Bloomberg. The currency is at its strongest since May 7 on an intraday trade basis.

The country may receive 3.3 billion euros ($4.7 billion) in transfers after lawmakers yesterday passed an austerity budget that cuts staff, freezes wages and trims investment. Teams from the International Monetary Fundand the European Union will review the bailout agreement between Jan. 20 and Jan. 27, Tonny Lybek, the IMF representative to Romania, said in an e-mail today. The new budget aims to narrow the deficit to 5.9 percent of gross domestic product from about 7.3 percent last year.

“The chances of success are high,” Commerzbank analysts including Lutz Karpowitz and Ulrich Leuchtmann

Inflation

The leu has rallied 2.3 percent since a new cabinet was approved on Dec. 23, filling a political vacuum left in October after the previous government collapsed. The impasse meant the European Union’s second-poorest member was not in a position to come up with a budget that would meet IMF conditions for a revival of loan disbursements.

S&P on Jan. 13 said it may raise the outlook on Romania’s junk credit rating after a budget was approved. The country is rated BB+ at S&P, the highest junk grade.

“Nonetheless we have to keep our feet on the ground,” the Commerzbank analysts, based in Frankfurt, wrote. “The rate of inflation remains quite high at 4.7 percent and is likely to rise further in the course of the recovery. That is likely to limit the medium-term potential for a recovery.”

Prime Minister Emil Boc predicted yesterday that the economy will grow about 1.3 percent this year after a contraction of about 7 percent in 2009. He said the country will continue in recession in the first two quarters and recovery will come in the second half. The central bank last week unexpectedly cut the main interest rate

Drag on Growth

“While the approval of Romania’s budget is undoubtedly good news in that it should get the IMF program back on track, we doubt that it will do much to boost growth,” Neil Shearing and David Oxley, emerging-market economists at Capital Economics in London, wrote in a note today. “Regardless of the specific measures, the budget cutbacks themselves will weigh on growth.”

The Polish zloty gained 0.1 percent to 4.0448 per euro and the Czech koruna rose 0.2 percent to 25.950. Hungary’s forint eased 0.4 percent to 267.9 against the common currency.

To contact the reporter on this story: Piotr Skolimowski in Warsaw atpskolimowski@bloomberg.net wrote. “Standard & Poor’s has already promised an improvement of the rating outlook. This means that the strong appreciation of the leu over the past few weeks was justified.” to 7.5 percent, the lowest since January 2008. Its borrowing costs are still the highest in the European Union.

Friday, January 15, 2010

AP: IMF to visit Romania to consider unblocking loan

BUCHAREST, Romania -- The International Monetary Fund will send a mission to Romania on Jan. 20-27 to assess the country's economic conditions with a view to unblocking a multibillion loan, an IMF official said Friday.

Tonny Lybek, IMF representative for Romania and Bulgaria, said in a press release that "subject to the completion of the reviews by the IMF's Executive's Board," two loan disbursements worth euro2.3 billion ($3.33 billion) "would become available."

The announcement comes a day after Romania's Parliament passed this year's budget. The measure was mandatory to unfreeze the loan, which was suspended last year due to political instability.

Romania's economy has been hard hit by the economic downturn, shrinking by 8 percent in 2009 after years of robust economic growth.

The country was forced to seek help, and the IMF, the European Union and the World Bank put together a euro20 billion package in March.

The loan was suspended in October after the government was dismissed by Parliament in a no-confidence votet, leading to months of instability. However, President Traian Basescu was re-elected in December and he re-appointed Emil Boc as prime minister.


The new government drafted the 2010 budget, then approved by Parliament.

AP: Romania to cut 100,000 jobs in public sector

Romania said Thursday that 100,000 jobs in the public sector will be slashed as the government makes budget cuts to meet foreign loan targets and keep the economy afloat.

Finance Minister Sebastian Vladescu made the announcement as lawmakers debate this year's budget, which is crucial for unlocking an International Monetary Fund loan.

He declined to say where or by what date the cuts would be made. About 1.4 million people work in the country's public sector.

Romania needs to pass its budget to unfreeze the euro1.5 billion ($2.18 billion) installment of an IMF loan. It has agreed with the IMF on a budget deficit of 5.9 percent of gross domestic product.

After years of growth, Romania's economy was hit hard by the financial crisis last year, shrinking eight percent.

The IMF, the EU and World Bank put together a euro20 billion package in March to help Romania during the economic turmoil.

However, the loan was frozen in October after the government was dismissed by Parliament in a no-confidence vote, leading to a period of instability which was resolved after President Traian Basescu was re-elected in December.

Analysts say that the figure does not necessarily mean 100,000 people will lose their jobs as vacant jobs will not be filled and people near retirement age will not be replaced.

Romanian Parliament Approves Budget to Free IMF Loan

By Irina Savu and Adam Brown

Jan. 14 (Bloomberg) -- Romania’s parliament approved the 2010 state budget that freezes state wages and cuts investment to meet International Monetary Fund criteria and unlock a $30 billion bailout loan.

The budget, accepted by lawmakers in a 192-138 vote in Bucharest today, aims to narrow the deficit to 5.9 percent of gross domestic product from about 7.3 percent last year, which may prompt the IMF to resume payments as early as February.

Lawmakers met the Jan. 15 deadline to approve the 2010 budget, which was made a condition to unlock the bailout loan. The rescue package was frozen after Romania’s government collapsed in October amid infighting that delayed budget talks. Standard & Poor’s yesterday said it may raise the outlook on Romania’s junk credit rating with the approval.

“It is a budget to get us out of the economic crisis and consolidate the economy,” Prime Minister Emil Boc

The leu weakened 0.1 percent to 4.1197 per euro by 8:17 p.m. in Bucharest after gaining as much as 3 percent this year on optimism over resumed payments. The Bucharest Stock Exchange’s main BET index, up 10 percent this year, fell 1 percent.

An IMF delegation will visit Romania next week to review loan conditions and the budget. President Traian Basescu said last month after meeting IMF officials that passing the budget by the deadline of Jan. 15 may bring Romania 2.3 billion euros ($3.3 billion) in loan payments in February.

The budget freezes wages for the 1.3 million state workers, cuts 100,000 jobs and lowers infrastructure investment by 28 percent. It foresees state revenue of 166 billion lei ($58 billion), or 31.8 percent of GDP, and spending of 37.7 percent of GDP.

Finance Abroad

Romania, the European Union’s second-poorest member is rated BB+ at S&P, the highest junk grade, with a negative outlook. The nation is looking abroad to finance its shortfall to take advantage of improved investor sentiment after a new government was formed.

Romania may sell 1 billion euros in euro-denominated bonds in the first quarter and more later in the year, Finance Minister Sebastian Vladescu said on Jan. 13.

Boc also predicted today that the economy will grow about 1.3 percent this year after a contraction of about 7 percent last year. He said the country will continue in recession in the first two quarters and recovery will come in the second half.

The pace of contraction slowed in the third quarter to an annual 7.1 percent from 8.7 percent in the second quarter, with most of the improvement coming in manufacturing. Industrial output rose an annual 3 percent in November, the first gain in a year, as demand picked up from reviving economies in westEurope.

The Banca Nationala a Romaniei cut its main interest rate on Jan. 5 to 7.5 percent from 8 percent, the first reduction since the former government crumbled. The rate remains the EU’s highest.

To contact the reporter on this story: Adam Brown in Bucharest atabrown23@bloomberg.net; Irina Savu in Bucharest at isavu@bloomberg.net
said in a speech after the vote. “We’re preparing the economic relaunch with wisdom and maturity.”

Parallel Paths, Opposite Destinies

Transmission

http://www.rferl.org/archive/Transmission/latest/648/648.html


Shortly after Romanian-born German writer Herta Mueller was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in October, documents came to light showing she had been closely monitored by Romania’s infamous political police -- the Securitate. The documents from the Securitate archives also revealed the code name of her most avid informer -- Voicu -- and the real name of his Securitate handler -- Lt. Col. Paduraru.

At the time, I found it quite ironic that the informer’s code name was Voicu -- an ancient grassroots Romanian name -- while his style and spelling mistakes betrayed him as being an ethnic German like Herta Mueller. However, the informer’s identity was not known at the time.

But my initial assumption has proved correct. In a program broadcast on January 12, German public television ARD revealed the informer’s identity as Franz Schleich, an ethnic German writer and journalist who belonged to the same circles as Mueller in Communist-era Timisoara. German TV cited a graphology test that established that the handwriting on Voicu’s notes to the Securitate is identical with Schleich’s handwritten dedications on some of his books of poetry.

Ironically, Mueller and Schleich, both ethnic German writers from Romania, had nearly identical trajectories for a while. Both emigrated to West Germany -- Schleich in 1983 (his fast-track emigration might have been connected with services he rendered to the Securitate) and Mueller in 1987. Once in Germany, both continued to write about communist-era Romania.

But while their paths were similar, their destinies were not. Once in Germany, Mueller remained true to her moral stance and never made compromises in revealing the true nature of communism.

Schleich claimed to be a victim of communism, and returned to Timisoara as a visitor in 1985 and 1986. According to documents, he again met with his Securitate handler, Lt. Col. Paduraru, and was given new tasks. Paduraru later said Schleich completed those assignments with the same zeal as when he was living in Romania.

In light of these revelations, Schleich’s claim that he had been a victim of communism seems profoundly disingenuous. However, he was indeed a victim of communism, without even realizing it.

His mind had been so spoilt by the regime’s poisoned ways that he never found redemption. Although he moved to the coveted West, he had to sell his soul for a German passport. And his soul stayed back at the Securitate headquarters in Timisoara.

-- Eugen Tomiuc

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Romania’s Credit Rating Outlook May Improve, S&P Says

By Adam Brown and Irina Savu

Jan. 13 (Bloomberg) -- Romania may have its credit rating outlook raised as parliament prepares to pass the 2010 budget this week, unlocking a $30 billion bailout loan, Standard & Poor’s said.

“The ratings on Romania could indeed stabilize at the current level,” S&P credit analyst Marko Mrsnik said in a phone interview today. The outlook will improve if “public finances are put on a consolidation path, and if the private sector’s access to external financing improves and pressures on the banking sector subside.”

Lawmakers are working toward a Jan. 15 deadline to approve the 2010 budget with a deficit no wider than 5.9 percent of gross domestic product, which was made a condition to unlock the International Monetary Fund-led loan. The rescue package was frozen after Romania’s government collapsed in October amid infighting, putting in question budget talks.

The European Union’s second-poorest member is rated BB+ at S&P, the highest junk grade, with a negative outlook. Moody’s Investors Service is the only agency that rates Romania investment grade, at Baa3, while Fitch Ratings has a BB+, the highest non-investment rating.

Leu Surges

The leu rose to the strongest in eight months against the euro, strengthening 0.4 percent to 4.1185 per euro as of 2:33 p.m. in Bucharest. It has gained as much as 3 percent this year. The Bucharest Stock Exchange’s main BET indexgained 10 percent this year and rose 0.9 percent today to 5175.53, the highest level since September 2008.

Finance Minister Sebastian Vladescu, speaking in parliament, predicted yesterday that the budget will pass by Jan. 15 and trigger renewed payments from the bailout package.

An IMF delegation will visit Romania next week to review loan conditions and the 2010 budget, which aims to narrow the deficit from an estimated 7.3 percent of GDP in 2009. President Traian Basescu said last month after meeting IMF officials that passing the budget could bring Romania 2.3 billion euros ($3.3 billion) in loan payments as early as February.

Bond Plan

The Balkan nation is looking abroad to finance its shortfall to take advantage of improved investor sentiment after a new government was formed. Romania may sell 1 billion euros in euro- denominated bonds in the first quarter and more later in the year, Vladescu said yesterday.

Romania last sold euro-denominated bonds in June 2008, raising 750 million euros of 10-year debt at a yield 1.7 percentage points above the mid-swap rate, a benchmark for borrowing, Bloomberg data shows. The government postponed its planned sale of as much as 1.5 billion euros in bonds last year as borrowing costs jumped because of political instability.

The leu lost 4.8 percent against the euro last year, the third-worst performer among 25 emerging-market currencies tracked by Bloomberg, as the IMF froze payments to Romania and the ruling coalition of parties disintegrated in feuding.

Basescu won presidential elections on Dec. 6 with 50.3 percent of the vote against 49.7 percent for opposition leader Mircea Geoana. Basescu nominatedEmil Boc, leader of the Democratic Liberal Party, as prime minister. Boc’s government was approved 276 to 135 in a test of support in Parliament on Dec. 23.

Geoana’s Social Democratic Party, the second largest party in Parliament after Boc’s group, has said it wants the IMF to grant the country a wider budget deficit limit for 2010.

The three-week-old government raised its forecast for economic growth this year to 1.5 percent from 1 percent, and the IMF cut its estimate for 2009economic contraction to 7 percent from 8.5 percent.

The pace slowed in the third quarter of last year to 7.1 percent on the year from 8.7 percent in the second quarter, with most of the improvement coming from the manufacturing industry. The National Statistics Institute said today that industrial output rose an annual 3 percent in November, the first gain in a year, as demand picks up from reviving economies in western Europe.

The Banca Nationala a Romaniei cut its main interest rate on Jan. 5 to 7.5 percent from 8 percent, the first reduction since the former government crumbled. The rate remains the EU’s highest.

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