Friday, May 28, 2010

Romania supports Macedonia's bids to join NATO, EU

Romanian President Traian Basescu said on Thursday that his country would give its unconditional support to Macedonia's bids to join NATO and the European Union.

Basescu, who is paying an official visit to Macedonia, made the announcement at a joint press conference with his Macedonian counterpart Gjorge Ivanov, news reaching here from Skopje said.

"I am glad that President Basescu expressed Romania's readiness to be Macedonia's voice in the EU and NATO. They can present our positions where we are unable to take part," Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov said.

On the issue of the name row between Macedonia and Greece, Basescu said his country wouldn't give exclusive support to either Macedonia or Greece, but to a reasonable compromise between the two countries.

"We do not give exclusive support to any of the parties. We support reasonable compromise, a mutual settlement that satisfies both sides," he stressed.

Greece has been opposed to its northern neighbor using the name of Macedonia, arguing that the name implies territorial claims against its own northern province of Macedonia.

Macedonia's efforts to join NATO and the EU have been blocked over the issue, which has dogged the two neighbors for the past 19 years.

Basescu also reiterated that his country will not recognize the independence of Kosovo, a southern Serbian province which declared unilateral independence from Serbia in early 2008.

Source: Xinhua

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Romania to cut wages despite strike threat

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romania will go ahead with sweeping wage, pension and benefits cuts despite unions' threats to stage a general strike, Prime Minister Emil Boc said Wednesday, May 26.

The announcement came as the government prepares to adopt measures promised to the International Monetary Fund to reduce the budget deficit to some 6.8 percent of gross domestic product.

Boc said that people who earn the minimum wage of 600 lei (€144) or the minimum pension of 350 lei (€84) will not be affected. All other wages in the public sector will be slashed by one-fourth and pensions will decrease by 15 percent.

Education and public administration unions said they will stage a strike on May 31 to protest the measures.

Romania's economy shrank by 7.1 percent in 2009 as the global financial crisis forced it to negotiate a €20 billion rescue loan led by the IMF.

Jeffrey Franks, the IMF mission chief to Romania said the government, not the fund, had decided to make the wage cuts. The IMF had suggested raising income tax and sales tax, as well as other smaller public sector wage cuts, he said.

Boc says the government will send the measures to Parliament, through a procedure that will either lead to a speedy approval or to a no-confidence vote.

Romanian unions plan one-day general strike in June

By Radu Marinas

BUCHAREST, May 26 (Reuters) - Romanian trade unions plan a one-day general strike next month when parliament debates wage and pension cuts as agreed under a 20 billion euro ($25 billion) IMF-led aid deal, a union leader said on Wednesday.

Unions hope a million Romanians will support the strike, which aims to put pressure on policymakers to soften austerity measures in the EU's second-poorest country, and also backed a series of other stoppages by state employees.

Prime Minister Emil Boc said his cabinet would approve a letter of intent to the International Monetary Fund later on Wednesday and submit it to parliament, which is expected to hold a confidence vote on the proposed measures in early June.

"We aim to gather around one million people in a general strike across Romania the day parliament discusses the IMF-backed measures," Marius Petcu, head of one of the country's largest unions CNSLR Fratia, told Reuters.

Analysts say the five-month-old centrist government will struggle to force some of the measures through as it faces growing social unrest and probable legal challenges.

Bucharest has promised to cut state employees' wages by 25 percent and pensions by 15 percent to secure release of the next part of loans worth a combined 2 billion euros, without the need to raise taxes. [ID:nLDE64B1PN]

Boc said the lowest wage in the economy, of 600 lei ($177) per month and a minimum guaranteed pension of 350 lei would not be affected by the envisaged cuts, a stance branded as "unsatisfactory and cosmetic" by powerful unions.

The public sector, accused of inefficiency and corruption, employs 1.3 million workers, a third of all jobs, while pensions, wages and other social benefits account for two-thirds of budget spending.

Romania's biggest trade unions also decided on Wednesday to back an indefinite pay strike by around 350,000 teachers from May 31, followed by "warning and solidarity strikes" by transport workers, railwaymen, civil clerks and nurses in subsequent days.

"We're seeking to boost pressure on the government ... All our efforts to maintain constructively a social dialogue with this government have failed. This is not possible with the current cabinet," Petcu said.

Romania's bailout is crucial for its ability to finance a ballooning budget deficit, targeted at 6.8 percent of gross domestic product this year against an original 5.9 percent.

Political analysts have said parliament will probably rubber stamp the cuts next month but the government could face further legal obstacles to its attempt to cut the deficit.

Government's efforts to cut pensions from an average 170 euros per month are likely to be blocked by the constitutional court, as happened with IMF-backed cuts in Latvia. ($1=3.395 Lei) (Reporting by Radu Marinas; Editing by David Stamp)

DPA: Romanian government faces confidence vote on austerity policy

Bucharest - The Romanian government intends to push a drastic savings package through parliament even though it will amount to a vote of confidence on the Eastern European country's current government, Prime Minister Emil Boc said Wednesday.

The austerity measures include a 25 per cent cut in the salaries of civil servants and a 15 per cent decrease in pensions. The minimum wage of 600 lei (177 dollars) and minimum pension of 350 lei are exempted from the cuts.

Boc emphasized that the government does not consider tax increases to be an appropriate tool to balance its budget.

A decision from the cabinet on the salaries and pension cuts was expected on Wednesday evening. It will then be presented to the parliament.

The news led Romania's three largest unions to announce extensive protests, with plans for at least 400,000 teachers, public administration employees and health-care professionals to launch an indefinite strike on May 31 if the austerity measures are approved.

Protest rallies were reportedly planned nationwide.

Romania has promised the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to bring its budget deficit down to 6.8 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP).

Which austerity measures had exactly been demanded by the IMF is still being debated. The agency's managing director, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, said recently that the IMF had opposed salary cuts and only supported tax increases in Romania's case.

Romanian President Traian Basescu disputed that during a televised speech on Tuesday night.

'If Mr Strauss-Kahn has doubts, I can show him the document (with the IMF demands),' he said.

Romania was granted a 20-billion-euro (25-billion-dollar) emergency loan in 2009 to shore up its state budget, which has been battered by the global economic crisis.

The IMF and European Union financial institutions are lending Romania the funds. The IMF controls the disbursement of the package's installments, depending on whether Romania has met the agreed-to saving measures.

CIA director Leon Panetta visits Romania

BUCHAREST, Romania — The Romanian president's office says Central Intelligence Agency Director Leon Panetta met top officials to discuss terrorism, counterespionage and internet crime.

Panetta has had talks with President Traian Basescu, the head of the Romanian Intelligence Service and the Foreign Intelligence Service chief.

There was no word about Panetta's visit on Wednesday prior to the brief statement from Basescu's office. No further details were available.

Romania has been accused of allowing the CIA to set up a secret prison where suspected terrorists were interrogated and possibly tortured. The Romanian government has vehemently denied any complicity.

Ethnic Hungarians in Romania keen to get Hungarian passport

Romania's 1.5 million-strong Hungarian minority has embraced the chance to receive Hungarian citizenship. The proposal, set to cover ethnic Hungarians living in neighbouring countries, was announced by the new centre-right government in Budapest. Their idea, which is now a draft law, could include voting rights and other benefits.

"This is an extremely important element", said Attila Lászlo, ethnic Hungarian and deputy mayor of the Romanian city Cluj. "[Governing party] Fidesz wants national minorities in Hungary to be represented in the Hungarian parliament, so it makes sense to also have representatives of the Hungarians living outside the country's borders," he explained.

If the draft law is adopted, it would mean that the two main parties of Romanian Hungarians will be able to send candidates to the next parliamentary elections in Hungary. This would increase the influence of Hungarians living in Romania on policy making in Budapest.

Hungary's neighbours have received the proposal of dual citizenship with suspicion, however.

In Slovakia, the government of prime minister Robert Fico reacted vehemently to Budapest's announcement, threatening to strip Slovak nationality from any ethnic Hungarian who takes up the offer. Romania's response has been more cautious. So far, it has abstained from an official position.

The Hungarian draft nationality law has many implications, says Octavian Sergentu, a Cluj-based political analyst. "Aside from the consolidation of the ethnic identity of the Transylvanian Hungarians, this law will lead to the creation of a powerful Transylvanian lobby inside Hungary," the analyst said.

The draft law would certainly raise the presence of Romania's ethnic Hungarians in Hungarian politics. Over 85 percent of them would claim dual citizenship once the law is passed in Budapest, according to a recent poll by the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania.

Beyond political circles, pragmatic expectations prevail. Sándor Demeter, an ethnic Hungarian student at Cluj University, said he will apply for Hungarian citizenship as soon as the draft law is passed. "Hungarians can obtain a US visa much faster than Romanians," he explained. "In this crisis, I can't see any future for me in Cluj. I would rather drop my studies, get a visa and go to work in the United States," Mr Demeter stated.

For István Kiss, who runs a small business in the Transylvanian district Mures, Hungarian citizenship is important for one's image abroad. "In Austria, for instance, if you say you come from Romania, people look down on you. If you are Hungarian, things change and the Austrians become friendlier," said the businessman.

Young people hope Hungarian citizenship will give them access to research grants and study opportunities. Their parents, many of whom worked in both Romania and Hungary, see the citizenship offer as a chance to improve their retirement prospects.

"I think it would simplify things for me if I could transfer my pension to Hungary," said Ildiko Nagy, a hospital nurse in Budapest, who comes from Oradea in Transylvania.

"In Hungary, housing is cheaper, and so is food, while people are much more relaxed, less stressed. I've been working in Budapest since 1993 and I am entitled to some social benefits. I only hope that my pension in Hungary will be higher than the one I would get in Romania," Ms Nagy explained.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

FT: Romanian index plummets 11%

By Anjli Raval

Published: May 26 2010 03:00 | Last updated: May 26 2010 03:00

European stocks fell to an eight-month closing low, with central and eastern markets suffering the heaviest losses as weakness in the Spanish banking sector confirmed investors' fears about a spreading eurozone debt crisis.

Romania's BET index tumbled 11 per cent to 4,365.99, a seven-month low, on concerns about looming strikes against government cost-cutting measures.

Russia's Micex index also dropped to a seven-month low, down 5.7 per cent to 1,197.39, as the price of crude oil - the country's chief export earner - declined below $68 a barrel in New York.

The Micex yesterday entered technical bear-market territory, with its decline from an April peak now exceeding the 20 per cent threshold.

Ukraine's PFTS index lost all its gains for the year so far, sinking 6.2 per cent to 613.18 as discussions between the International Monetary Fund and the government about the country's debt stumbled over budgetary disagreements, according to analysts at BNP Paribas.

Turkey's ISE National index slid 4.2 per cent to 52,257.07 after Credit Suisse downgraded the country's banks.

The Budapest Stock Exchange fell 4.6 per cent to 20,679.55 while the Prague Stock Exchange lost 5.2 per cent to 1,097.

The FTSE Eurofirst 300 sank to its lowest closing level since early September 2009, losing 2.4 per cent to 949.87, led by heavy losses in the banking sector.

The declines mirrored the steep losses from the US and Asia, triggered mainly by the Spanish central bank's bail-out of a regional lender over the weekend.

The Ibex 35 in Spain sank 3.1 per cent to 9,004.4, its lowest closing level since May 2009.

Europe's leading indices were also lower. France's CAC 40 shed 2.9 per cent to 3,331.29 while the Xetra Dax in Germany declined 2.3 per cent to 5,670.04 after news that Germany might widen the ban on speculative trades to cover all shares.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

BBC News: 'First steps on grass' for lions

A pride of 13 lions rescued from dilapidated and cramped conditions at a Romanian zoo have taken their first steps in a new outdoor enclosure.

The lions were flown from Oradea Zoo to their new home at the Yorkshire Wildlife Park, Doncaster, in February.

After three months in quarantine they have been let out. For many of them it is their first time on grass.

In Romania up to five of the animals would be in three metre square concrete-floored cages.

Daiana Ghender, the director of Oradea Zoo, said she was "very, very happy" to see the lions in their new nine-acre enclosure.

"I was very emotional to see their first steps on the ground - they lived all their lives on concrete," she said.

'So excited'

Yorkshire Wildlife Park's director, Cheryl Williams, said it was "overwhelming" to see how "curious" and "amazingly relaxed" the lions were in their new home.

"They lived on hard, bare concrete with very little shelter in temperatures which ranged from minus 20C to plus 36C," she said.

"Staff did the best they could but obviously in such a poor country the facilities were poor. It just wasn't great for them.

"So to see them in space - they've got rocks to climb on - It's probably the furthest those lions have walked in their life in a straight line.

"For the first time ever they'll be able to run as fast as they can. The youngsters haven't even thought of it yet."

Ms Ghender said the lions, now known as the Pride of Yorkshire, showed signs of remembering her.

"When they heard my voice today, they were so excited. They approached me and let me scratch them and licked my hands," she said.

In summer 2009 the Yorkshire Wildlife Park launched an appeal to raise £150,000 to get the lions to the UK.

They flew over in a specially modified Boeing 737 which was usually used to transport holidaymakers.

Their enclosure has been built in three sections so the three pride families do not mix.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Romania EconMin sees 2010 economy growing 1.5 pct

BUCHAREST, May 24 (Reuters) - Romania's economy may record growth of over 1.5 percent this year after contracting more than 7 percent in 2009, Economy Minister Adriean Videanu said on Monday.

His comments come after the International Monetary Fund said earlier in May it sees flat or negative growth for the European Union state, revising previous estimates downward as economic indicators have so far underperformed expectations.

"I am optimistic," Videanu told local television station Realitatea TV. "In my opinion, (growth) will go above 1.5 percent this year."

An IMF mission to review Romania's progress in meeting the conditions attached to a 20 billion euro aid package agreed to allow it a wider deficit target of 6.8 percent of gross domestic product this year against a previous 5.9 percent.

However, it said the IMF will not disburse further aid until the centrist coalition government takes strong measures to cut public spending and boost tax receipts.

The cabinet has said it will enforce drastic cuts in pensions and wages in its sprawling state sector as of June, in a bid to avoid raising taxes but angering powerful trade unions.

Thousands of Romanians protested against the cuts in Bucharest last week, and unions are considering a general strike on May 31, casting doubt on Romania's ability to meet its pledges.

Romania's homeless given a chance by recycling computers

AFP - When, in an unexpected twist, Doru Ipeghian ended up living on the streets of Bucharest at 55 after a comfortable life in the United States, he lost confidence in himself.

But today he "feels more like a person again" thanks to a project enabling people living on the margins of society to recycle computers and make eco-friendly cotton bags in order to re-join the labour market.

Located on the premises of a now derelict giant industrial complex of the Communist era (1945-1989), on the outskirts of the Romanian capital, the "Ateliere fara frontiere" (Workshop without borders) is all about second chances.

Used computers given by multinationals like Apa Nova or embassies are fixed by the employees and donated to local communities and schools in Romania, where huge discrepancies still remain between urban and rural areas.

The parts that cannot be re-used are sorted out and sold to specialized recycling firms, a trade still fairly new in the Balkans.

The cotton bags made under the supervision of the ONG Viitor plus (Future Plus) are bought either by shops selling natural cosmetics or by firms like the Royal Bank of Scotland or Royal Canin, when they organize seminars.

"This project is about the only one that gives an opportunity to homeless people and to youths who dropped out of school and left their families to get back to work," Elena Adam, a social worker for the Romanian Samu social told AFP.

Romania was hit last year by one of the worst recessions in Europe. The economy shrank by 7.1 percent in 2009 and is set to stagnate or even shrink again this year.

Unemployment nearly doubled from 4.4 percent at the end of 2008 to 8.07 percent in April this year.

"Finding a job for people who are seen as socially more vulnerable has become more and more difficult," Adam insisted.

"When you are on the street, you do not have an ID card. It is a stigma when you look for a job because it says plainly 'homeless'," Ipeghian said.

A former Bucharest-born ice-hockey player, he moved to the United States when he was 17 as his parents escaped the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu.

"I got everything there. I was a hairdresser in Boston for almost 40 years. I had a wife and two children, a house, friends, everything. But I blew it up," he acknowledged.

"I started to take drugs and I became addicted. I ended up in jail."

His wife asked for a divorce, and Doru, who did not have the American citizenship, was deported to his native Romania where he had neither friends nor family left.

"It was a shock. I was homeless. In the winter, I was trying to keep warm by staying the whole day at the train station."

But one day, Doru discovered the "workshop." It was in 2009, when the initiative just started.

Doru like about 20 other people over the last year was hired to work eight hours a day to recycle computers or make bags.

They are paid about 150 euros a month, slightly more than the minimum salary in Romania. They also get a monthly free public transport card and food at a collective restaurant.

"Workshop without borders" helps them find affordable accommodation.

"We also provide psychological support and help to sort out their administrative situation and the possibility to follow courses," explained Patrick Ouriaghli, president of the Ateliere fara frontiere.

"The workshop is meant to be a springboard to a regular work contract within a year's time," said executive director Raluca Gheorlan.

It worked out for Doru who last week signed a steady contract with eco-friendly car cleaning company Sineo in Bucharest.

"The workshop makes us believe in ourselves again," said Georgiana, another "workshop" employee.

Doru said he had "simple plans" for now: save money to be able to rent an apartment and live a "plain simple life."

At the workshop he learned how to use the Internet. "Now I am in touch with my children again in the States via email."

Monday, May 24, 2010

Romania Eyes Balkan Energy Investments

Romania is eyeing possibilities for new investments in countries such as Serbia, Albania and Montenegro, mainly in production as well as delivery of energy, Romanian Economy Minister Adriean Videanu said in an interview on Friday.

"We have a strategy to look further at regional opportunities for investment in the rich energy potential of the Balkan countries. Romania has the possibility to become a major energy player in the region," Videanu

He added that most likely investments would be in hydropower. Bucharest is currently overseeing a controversial plan to consolidate its power producers into two energy firms, Electra (coal and thermal power)
and Hidroenergetica (hydro power).

While the government says the move is aimed to lower energy costs for consumers and raise competitiveness with regional power giants, critics say it will limit competition.

Furthermore, Romania is planning to sell several government-held stakes in key energy companies, including oil group OMV Petrom and utilities Transgaz and Transelectrica.

AP: Romania's president withdraws honour he bestowed on communist who crushed dissent

BUCHAREST, Romania - Romania's president says he regrets bestowing a military honour on a former communist official who served prison time for ordering the deadly 1981 crackdown on a bus full of Romanians attempting to flee the country.

George Homostean, a former interior minister, served just 14 months of a 14-year sentence before he was given amnesty in 2002. He is also blamed for dissident Gheorghe Ursu's death in 1985 after repeated beatings in prison.

President Traian Basescu says he did not check Homostean's file when he was nominated for the award by the National Association of War Veterans. Basescu said Friday he regretted giving Homostean the honour in April.

Homostean was interior minister from 1979 to 1987.

IMF says it proposed tax hikes to curb Romania's deficit

BUCHAREST (AFP) - The International Monetary Fund said on Saturday it had suggested tax increases to curb Romania's risingpublic deficit but that the government chose to slash wages and pensions, which sparked massive protests this week.

"The authorities and the IMF are in full agreement that urgent corrective action is required to address the serious economic situation facing Romania," the IMF mission chief for Romania, Jeffrey Franks, said in a statement.

"The IMF had suggested an option that would have entailed greater reliance on revenue measures. Among the revenue measures discussed were increases in VAT and the flat tax, plus a move to a progressive income tax," he added.

Romania currently applies a single flat rate of 16 percent on income.

Some difficult expenditure cuts would have also been required under any scenario, the IMF also said.

"The option that was chosen by the Government focused mainly on rolling back what it considers to be unsustainable expenditure increases in recent years," Franks said underlining that "the choice about what option to pursue belongs to the government."

Romania's government at the beginning of the month announced it would slash wages in the public sector by 25 percent and cut pensions and unemployment benefits by 15 percent starting on June 1 in an attempt to curb the public deficit.

That move led to mass public protests this week. Between 30,000 to 50,000 people took to the streets of Bucharest Wednesday and unions are talking about a general strike for May 31.

After years of steady growth, Romania's economy shrunk by 7.1 percent in 2009 and is expected to stagnate or even shrink again in 2010.

Bucharest committed to curb its public deficit in order to get a new instalment of a 20-billion-euro aid package from the IMF, the European Union and the World Bank.

200 take part in gay pride march in Romanian capital

By: The Associated Press


BUCHAREST, Romania - Some 200 people held a gay pride march through the Romanian capital despite calls by Orthodox Christian groups to say at home.

British Ambassador Robin Barnett and 11 other foreign embassies praised Saturday's march, held just hours after 100 anti-gay activists held a separate rally condemning homosexuality.

There were no clashes or scuffles as there have been in previous years.

More than 80 per cent of Romanians belong to the Romanian Orthodox Church.

Romania decriminalized homosexuality in 2000 under pressure from the European Union and the United States.

Friday, May 21, 2010

NYTL A Dictator in His Own Words and Images

The Culture at Large

MAY 20, 2010


CANNES, France — As the title suggests, “The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu” is hardly a conventional historical documentary. Andrei Ujica’s three-hour-plus found-footage epic, screening out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival, recounts the life of the Romanian dictator as Ceausescu himself saw it — or, as was often the case, stage-managed it. Devoid of explanatory titles and voice-overs, the film assembles a composite portrait of Ceausescu solely through the existing visual record: the speeches he gave, the parades thrown in his honor, the state visits he made (to the United States, China, Britain and, most memorably, North Korea) and the home movies of family vacations and hunting expeditions.

This is the third in a series of documentaries that Mr. Ujica, who was born in Romania in 1951, has made about the death of communism. “Videograms of a Revolution” (1992), which he directed with Harun Farocki, used existing footage of the 1989 Romanian revolution as the basis for a film essay about media and power. “Out of the Present” (1995) recounts the story of a Soviet cosmonaut who was aboard the Mir space station during the disintegration of the Soviet Union. For “The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu” — four years in the making (the editing alone took a full year) — Mr. Ujica started with more than 1,000 hours of footage, which he whittled down and shaped into the story of a rise and fall.

Mr. Ujica, who left Bucharest for Germany in 1981 and now divides his time between Romania and Germany (he is a film professor at Karlsruhe University), spoke about his film in an interview here on Wednesday. Below are excerpts from the conversation.

Could you expand on the implications of the title “The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu”? Obviously you did not mean to make a typical documentary biography.

The challenge was to propose a new subgenre of historical film, to try to show that today we are in a situation where the corpus of images about major contemporary events and personalities is sufficient to allow us to reconstruct history. There’s a level of irony in the title, but for me it was the only possible perspective. This was an archive of images commissioned by Ceausescu and by his propaganda machine, and if you try to make a film using these images, you can make this film only through his eyes. I couldn’t make a film called “The Biography of Nicolae Ceausescu” because I did not have those images.


There are several different types of footage in the film — some of official addresses and events, and some of what look like home movies. Did it all come from the same archive?

There are only two big archives in Bucharest, the National Television Archives and the National Film Archives. The National Documentary Film Studio was responsible for the Ceausescu protocol archives, and after the revolution the archives moved to the National Film Archives. The images from the holidays and hunting trips are from the ’70s, and they were shot for the private use of the Ceausescu family. He loved to be filmed and he called them souvenirs. The footage from other countries — some were by Ceausescu’s own cameramen, but sometimes they were shot by, for instance, the North Korean documentary studio or the BBC and sent to Bucharest as unedited rushes which the Romanian propaganda machine could use.

Were you concerned about what a film like this has to leave out by definition? There’s no larger political context, and the effects of Ceausescu’s rule remain almost entirely off-screen.

Yes, I did think about that. But those who are less familiar with political events can see this as a fiction film about a historical character, and understand the evolution of a character in 25 years, the changes that power has on him and the nation around him. It’s the same way we would read a historical novel about a general of Napoleon. A cultivated French reader knows the role this person played in French history, and another reader might not but they still follow the character’s psychological evolution.

You worked with an editor, Dana Bunescu, who also does sound design, and who has worked on many notable fiction films of the new Romanian cinema, including “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” and “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.” Could you talk about your collaboration?

Dana is an incredible artist, and for a project like this, it was a great help to be able to work on both image and sound with the same person. There were two levels of editing for the images. The first is about constructing scenes that don’t exist in the raw material as scenes, so we had to build them through montage. The second level was a more normal editing process, putting these scenes together to find the rhythm of the movie.

The sound is the secret true fictional level of the film. More than 90 percent of the material has no sound; except for Ceausescu’s speeches the sound was not archived, only the images. We reconstructed the soundtrack on different levels, creating realistic sound and also using abstract sound to create dramaturgical effects. The film does have a commentary but it’s a nonverbal commentary. It’s in the construction of the sound and in the intervention of the music.

In the course of making the film how did your perception of Ceausescu change?

My personal reason for making the film was that I began to understand in recent years that in fact we don’t know Ceausescu. For my generation, he was an abstract figure, a screen on which we projected our hatred of totalitarianism. But it became more and more important for me to try to understand the man behind this character. Who was this man who influenced so powerfully our biographies? And surely, I discovered a human being. You could say the film is against historical clichés, and it shows that the psychological reality is always more complex. For me it was also a historical and psychological auto-therapy. In the end I don’t hate him anymore. I’m free from him, so it was a successful therapy.

AFP: IMF will unblock aid to Romania when austerity cuts effective

10 May 2010

(BUCHAREST) - The IMF board will release a new disbursement of its aid package to crisis-hit Romania when austerity measures announced by the government are effective, an IMF representative said Monday.

"The board will meet and analyze the agreement as soon as the authorities have taken the promised measures," chief of IMF mission Jeffrey Franks said during a press conference.

Romania's government last week announced it would wages in the public sector by 25 percent and cut pensions and unemployment benefits by 15 percent starting on June 1 in an attempt to curb a rising public deficit.

"Our normal schedule is to go to the board in June, if the government needs more time, there will be no problem," he said.

Once the IMF board approves the deal, about 900 million euros will be transfered to Bucharest, Franks said, speaking in Romanian.

Romania last year obtained a 20-billion-euro aid package from the IMF, the European Union and the World Bank after pledging to trim the bloated civil service and freeze public wages and pensions in order to slash the deficit from 7.2 percent in 2009 to 5.9 percent in 2010.

Franks said performance until March had been been "relatively good" but added that the government would face major challenges until the end of the year.

"The impact of the crisis has been more severe than anticipated and recovery has been delayed," he said.

After forecasting growth of 1.3 percent for 2010, the IMF and the Romanian government now predict the Romanian economy will stagnate or even slightly contract.

Franks said the IMF backed the austerity cuts announced by the government, which should help tame the public deficit to 6.8 percent, nearly one point up from the previous target.

Without these cuts, the public deficit would rise to 9.1 percent, he warned.

Franks said between 2005 and 2008 the number of employees in the public sector rose by 250,000. This figure has to be "reduced gradually," he stressed.

"Based on our findings, we have concluded the programme is working but new fiscal measures still need to be adopted," European commission mission chief Fabien Ilzkowitz said, commenting on the austerity cuts announced by the centre-right government.

She said given the more complex procedures within the European body, the Commission should disburse the next tranche of its loan in September.

The Romanian press on Monday criticized the government for being unable to curb tax evasion, "which has devastating effects" according to the daily newspaper Romania Libera.

The unions, opposed to the cuts announced by the government, are due to hold a crisis meeting on Monday to decide on future protests.

The opposition social-democrat party (PSD) has criticized the set of measures planned by the government, deemed "anti-economic" and pleaded instead for an increase in taxes on high revenues.

Romanian Premier to Seek Confidence After IMF Letter

By Irina Savu

May 20 (Bloomberg) -- Romania’s government will seek a confidence vote in parliament after it signs a letter to the International Monetary Fund on May 26 outlining austerity measures it plans to take, Prime Minister Emil Boc said.

Boc’s coalition administration, which holds 258 votes in the 473-seat parliament, plans to cut wages by 25 percent and pensions and unemployment benefits by 15 percent from June to unlock payments from an international bailout led by the IMF.

“The decisions are very difficult and the alternatives very few,” Boc told reporters in Bucharest today. “We either raise taxes or cut spending. Unfortunately the economic crisis deepened in 2010 and forced us to take harsh measures to cut pensions and wages.”

The European Union’s second-poorest member is relying on a 20 billion-euro ($25 billion) IMF and EU loan to resurrect its economy, mired in the worst recession since it abandoned communism. The economy shrank 2.6 percent in the first quarter and may contract as much as 0.5 percent this year, the IMF forecasts.

The government must pass the austerity package by June 15 to unlock around 2 billion euros in payments and meet its budget deficit goal of 6.8 percent of gross domestic product, as agreed under the bailout, President Traian Basescu said on May 13.

Labor unions and the opposition say the measures will spark a social and political crisis and want further negotiations with the IMF. The unions failed to reach an agreement with the government during talks today and said they will call a general strike on May 31 if the austerity measures are approved. Both sides pledged to hold further discussions in the next week.

Finance Minister Sebastian Vladescu, who attended the press conference today with Boc, said changes to the contents of the letter outlining the government’s cost-savings steps would be an error.

“The alternative is to pay lower wages and pensions, or stop paying them at all from December,” Boc said.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Romanian anti-austerity protests biggest since 1989


In some of the largest demonstrations Romania has seen since the ousting of Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989, tens of thousands of workers and pensioners have taken to the streets to protest the swingeing austerity measures the government is imposing at the behest of the International Monetary Fund.

Between 30,000 and 60,000 mostly public sector workers and retirees on fixed incomes descended upon the capital, Bucharest, on Wednesday (19 May), having been bussed in from across the country, and called on the government to resign.

In a worrying sign for the government, even police joined in the protest, with Marian Gruia, head of the policemen's union, calling fellow citizens to unite, "as we did in 1989, when we overthrew the dictatorship," according to a number of local media reports.

The centre-right coalition government of Emil Boc has announced public sector wage cuts of 25 percent and pension and unemployment benefit cuts of 15 percent in an attempt to bring down the country's budget deficit and assuage the concerns of markets. The measures come atop job-benefit reductions in some civil service sectors in 2009.

The Labour Ministry has announced job cuts of between 60,000 and 80,000 positions, including 15,000 teachers, meaning the likely closure of a number of schools in villages.

Additionally, a scheduled increase in the minimum wage has been postponed.

The government is imposing the cuts in order to be able to access another tranche of a €20 billion loan from the IMF. Earlier this month at an auction, the government was unable to attract sufficient takers for public debt.

Already last year, a loan installment from the international lender was delayed following the collapse of the government.

The administration has a small majority in the parliament and has said that it will seek a vote of confidence from the chamber over the measures.

Meanwhile, trade unions have warned they will step up their actions and plan to hold a general strike later this month.

Ceausescu documentary a missed opportunity

Peter Brunette
Thu May 20, 2010

CANNES (Hollywood Reporter) - "The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu," a fresh-from-the-laboratory documentary on the former Romanian dictator, is informative and -- especially in its last hour -- surprisingly dramatic.

It's too bad that director-screenwriter Andrei Ucija decided to offer not a single word of explanatory voiceover over its entire three-hour running time, an unfortunate aesthetic decision that will make the film much less informative and dramatic than it should be.

Given the exotic nature of the material and the fact that no contextual aid is offered the non-Romanian viewer, sales of this excellent film will be limited, even to television, its natural home.

Ceausescu is interesting and historically relevant because he was one of the few Iron Curtain dictators ushered out of office at the end of the Cold War 20 years ago with a bullet. He was executed in a rough and ready style -- along with his faithful wife -- by his outraged countrymen on Christmas Day in 1989.

The documentary begins and ends with the mock trial of the condescending dictator conducted by offscreen figures who soon would murder him. Significantly, but mysteriously, the additional footage that some viewers will remember, showing the corpses of the freshly assassinated Ceausescus, has been omitted. It is difficult to know whether this decision was prompted by an ethical fastidiousness or another motive.

After the glimpse of Ceausescu refusing to recognize the legitimacy of his interrogators, the film "autobiography" begins with the funeral of Ceausescu's predecessor, Gheorghe Georghiu-Dej, and footage of the tremendous public outpouring of grief that accompanied his death. Non-Romanians will struggle to figure out exactly who has died and, even more importantly, how Ceausescu succeeded to power.

What we get instead is a two-hour collage of various world figures coming to pay homage to the dictator over his 25-year career, including Leonid Brezhnev, Charles De Gaulle, Alexander Dubcek of Czechoslovakia, Mao Tse Tung, Queen Elizabeth, Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon. This visual documentation, while more than a bit repetitive, is fascinating. Even more repetitive and more fascinating are the endless shots of tacky national ceremonies honoring the dictator, sequences that bear an uncanny resemblance to the more familiar ones honoring Adolf Hitler three decades earlier. Welcome laughs come from the over-the-top celebrations during a state visit to China (it didn't start with the recent Olympics) and seeing the vertically challenged dictator, improbably occupying the front line of a volleyball team, miss most of his shots.

Despite the lack of an explanatory voiceover -- and one presumes that even younger Romanians would benefit from that 20 years later -- the raw, uncontextualized footage slowly begins to accumulate a power of its own.

Still, it would have been useful to spell out the fact that the enormous, legendary building project seen near the film's end was meant as a kind of castle for the Ceausescus, not just another government building.

The most dramatic moment comes when a lone member of the rubber-stamp Parliament rises to complain that Ceausescu has been illegitimately plotting to remain in power. He is shouted down by a virtual unanimity of zombie politicians clapping and shouting over and over in unison for Ceausescu's continuation as party secretary. It's absolutely chilling footage.

Various ironic choices of music, as well as overwrought sound effects and sometimes pretentious fades-to-black, indicate that Ujica deliberately chose to let the images speak for themselves. Is it too much to hope that he might swallow his artistic pride and, with a view toward European and North American sales, now write a script explaining what's going on behind the pure visual facts that could be even more compelling than they already are?

BBC News: Thousands protest over Romania austerity measures

Tens of thousands of public sector workers have gathered in the Romanian capital Bucharest to protest against plans to cut wages and pensions.

"We will not leave until the government quits," said Bogdan Hossu, leader of the Cartel Alfa trade union.

The government has proposed wage cuts of 25% and pension cuts of 15% in order to reduce the country's budget deficit.

Romania's economy shrunk more than 7% last year and it needed an IMF bail-out in order to meet its wage bill.

It says it needs to implement new austerity measures to qualify for the next instalment of the 20m-euro ($25bn; £17bn) IMF loan.Widespread anger

Protesters began gathering at the capital from early morning on Wednesday. Police put the number present at around 30,000, while the unions said it was 50,000, according to the AFP news agency.

Many of them arrived from other parts of the country by bus and police blocked a number of streets in the city to maintain order.

The gathering was one of the biggest on the streets of Bucharest was one of the biggest since the Romanian Revolution.

Marian Gruia, head of the policemen's union, called on Romanians to unite, "as we did in 1989, when we overthrew the dictatorship" of communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu.

Demonstrators carried banners criticising the centrist government of Prime Minister Emil Boc and President Traian Basescu.

Mr Boc was re-appointed in December after being forced out when his coalition collapsed in October.

Mr Basescu has said cuts to Romania's huge public sector - which accounts for a third of all jobs - are preferable to tax rises.

But analysts and investors apparently fear the government may lose its nerve and cave in to the protesters. An auction of government debt earlier this month failed to attract enough interest.

Economy ministry official Marcel Hoara was booed and sprayed with water and stones after joining a live televised debate in the middle of the protest. Police escorted him from the area.

Unions are threatening a general strike later this month if their demands are not met.

AP: Ex-Communist officials banned

May 19, 2010

BUCHAREST (Romania) - ROMANIA'S Parliament has voted to ban former high-ranking Communist officials from running for public office for five years.

The lower house of Parliament voted 203-40 on Wednesday to ban former Communists, including diplomats, judges, prosecutors, lawmakers and mayors from launching campaigns.

The Senate voted on the same legislation in 2006. It needs only the president's signature - a foregone conclusion.

The new law wouldn't affect former communists now in office. However, it would prevent them from running for re-election for five years.

A bloody revolt ended Communism in Romania in 1989, when dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was toppled and executed. More than 1,000 people were killed.

Parliament still has members who were politically active under communism.

Romanian FDI plunges in 1Q 2010

bne - 19.05.2010

Data published yesterday by the National Bank of Romania (BNR) shows that the foreign direct investments (FDI) totalled EUR 754 M in Q1, a level almost twice lower than the one reported in the same period of 2009 (EUR 1.475 bln), Economic Daily reported.

According to the central bank, the foreign investments financed 50.1 per cent of the current account deficit of EUR 1.506 bln reported in Q1. The FDI reported in the aforementioned period consisted of capital participations (EUR 650 M as against EUR 993 M last year) and intra-group credits (EUR 104 M as against EUR 482 M last year). The FDI reported last year totalled EUR 4.89 bln, half the value reported in 2008, and covered 96.9 per cent of the current account deficit. In 2008, non-residents' FDI totalled EUR 9.49 bln.

The current account deficit stood at EUR 1.506 bln in Q1, up by 65.5 per cent compared to the same period last year, the development being determined by the current transfers balance drop of 62.8 per cent compared to January-March 2009. The current transfers balance dropped 2.6 times from EUR 1.219 bln in Q1 of last year to EUR 454 M in the same period this year.

During the period analysed, the service sector had a negative contribution of EUR 273 M compared to only EUR 64 M in the same period of 2009, a contribution mainly determined by the tourism-travel sector (- EUR 119 M). At the same time, the revenue deficit stagnated at EUR 518 M in January-March. The medium and long-term debt stood at EUR 70.157 bln on March 31 (81.5 per cent of the total external debt), up by 6.9 per cent compared to the end of last year. The short-term external debt stood at EUR 15.87 bln (18.5 per cent of the total external debt) at the end of March, up by 8.8 per cent compared to December 31, 2009. The debt service rate for medium and long-term external debt stood at 34.6 per cent of the total external debt in Q1 of 2010 compared to 33.1 per cent in 2009. Compared to December 31, 2009, on March 31, 2010 BNR's official reserve covered 9.8 months of imports of goods and services.

OECD report, too optimistic

A report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows that Romania has non-discriminatory foreign investment legislation and a modern fiscal system. Romanian businessmen and authorities nevertheless labelled the report's results as being too optimistic.

,,The results of the report are also due to the business environment's passivity and to compare Romania to those states is a dangerous process. It is even more dangerous because it uses a diplomatic language that has to be decrypted because otherwise it sends a wrong message to the public," Florin Pogonaru, president of the Association of Romanian Businessmen (AOAR), stated. On the other hand, Romania has received the best evaluation in South-East Europe when it comes to indicators of human capital policies. The OECD report claims that Romania is among the regional economies in which access to corporate financing is the most developed.

Irinel Cristu, secretary of state within the Ministry of Economy, Commerce and Business Environment, stated that as an EU member state Romania should compare itself with EU states, should have a high standard and the report's results should be treated with caution. On the other hand, presidential advisor Leonard Orban said that despite the progress that Romania made in its effort to join the EU, there are areas where many things still have to be done, opining that boosting Romania's competitiveness is a priority in the following period.

Direct foreign investments this year will be worth less than the EUR 4.89 bln posted in 2009, and authorities need to prove to investors Romania is a good place to do business, Foreign Investors Council (CIS) representative Dana Ciomag said at the presentation of the OECD report. Estimates by the CIS representative are less upbeat than those of authorities', considering that Lucian Croitoru, an adviser to National Bank of Romania Governor Mugur Isarescu, forecast last month direct foreign investments in excess of EUR 6 bln in 2010, slightly up from the roughly EUR 5 bln in 2009. In his view, there are many areas where Romania shows potential and which could help economic rebound, among which power and infrastructure projects.Source Bne

Romania sees sharpest drop (56%) for new car registrations from January-April

bne - 19.05.2010

New car registrations in Romania fell by 56% on the year to 17,694 in January-April, the sharpest drop among EU member states, the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association (ACEA) said on Monday, SeeNews reported.

In April alone, Romania's car registrations fell 19.7% on the year to 8,875 units, ACEA said in a statement.

New car registrations in the EU (with the exception of Malta and Cyprus) rose by 4.8% on the year to 4.81 million units in the January-April period, ACEA said. Registrations in the European Economic Area (EU, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland) grew by 5.1% on the year to 4.941 million units over the review period.

New passenger car registrations in the European Economic Area under the brand of Romanian carmaker Dacia , owned by France's Renault, were up by 32.5% on the year to 86,277 units in the first four months of 2010. Source Bne

Rise and fall of Romania's dictator Ceaucescu at Cannes

By Isabelle Wesselingh (AFP)

BUCHAREST — The rise and fall of late Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu unravels in a documentary screening at Cannes on Tuesday that is entirely based on archive footage.

In his three-hour work, director Andrei Ujica delivers "The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceaucescu", the story of the feared Communist strongman who forced him into exile.

"It is too easy to think that the ideological dictators that marked the 20th century were monsters fallen from the sky, that they were not human beings," Ujica told AFP in Bucharest.

"Some victims of dictators also participate in this game of opportunism which maintains them in power."

The 58-year-old film-maker said his documentary offers new insights into the man who ruled Romania from 1965 until his ignominious end in 1989 before a firing squad on Christmas Day.

"When I was young, Ceaucescu was only a screen on which I projected my hatred against any form of totalitarianism," Ujica said.

Whenever Ceaucescu appeared on television, "we would switch it off immediately," he recalled.

Years later, Ujica spent hundreds of hours over the course of several months with celluloid memories of his former bogeyman in the intimacy of an old apartment in a quiet street of Bucharest.

"There were about 1,000 hours of archive footage. Two researchers selected 250 hours for me. I then looked at them very carefully in order to select the scenes I wanted to keep. It was a gargantuan task," he explains.

Even though most of the images were recorded for propaganda purposes, Ujica managed to find genuine moments such as a volleyball game in which Ceaucescu keeps cheating.

"No one can control everything especially when you are filmed as extensively as Ceaucescu was during his time in power," he said, adding that after spending so much screen time in the despot's company, "Ceaucescu became more human to me."

Through thoughtful editing, Ujica shows how a man from a modest background climbed to absolute power, before his swift downfall and subsequent execution at a time when Communist regimes in Europe were tumbling like dominoes.

The film evokes the "glorious years" when Western leaders such as Richard Nixon, Charles de Gaulle and Queen Elizabeth II opened their arms to their Romanian counterpart.

But clouds gathered: a deadly earthquake hit Bucharest, Romania suffered serious floods and the dictator was subjected to rare public criticism during a meeting of the Communist central committee.

The film shows a visit to a market in the 1980s, when food shortages were severe. The autocratic leader is seen looking mechanically at artificially filled shelves.

When a saleswoman offers him flowers, he passes them on without a second look to an aide, as if even he no longer believed in the propaganda lies.

After two movies on the collapse of communism, "Videograms of a Revolution" in 1992 and "Out of the Present" in 1995, Ujica waited 15 years to complete his trilogy.

"I had to find a way to deal with the story of Ceaucescu," he explained.

His friend, German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk, helped by giving him "The Autobiography of Fidel Castro," a book written by Norberto Fuentes, a former ally of the Cuban leader who later became a dissident.

Ujica chose deliberately not to add commentary or provide dates for the events depicted in his film.

"I did not want to make a documentary on Ceaucescu but a movie about dictatorship. Because I believe that we can get closer to the complex essence of historical events through artistic means," he said.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

NYT:The Banality of Evil, Romanian-Style

The Culture at Large

MAY 17, 2010
The Banality of Evil, Romanian-Style

CANNES, France— No national cinema has had a higher profile at Cannes in recent years than that of Romania. Cristian Mungiu’s “4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days” won the Palme d’Or in 2007. Corneliu Porumboiu took home the Camera d’Or for best first feature in 2006 with “12:08 East of Bucharest” and returned last year with the well-received “Police, Adjective.” But the film that kicked off the Romanian renaissance, in 2005, was Cristi Puiu’s “Death of Mr. Lazarescu,” a three-hour black comedy about a Bucharest old-timer’s nightmarish odyssey through the Romanian health care system.

Mr. Puiu is back at Cannes with his third feature,“Aurora,” which Manohla Dargis called “a slow-burning tour de force” in her Saturday dispatch. The Romanian house style — long takes, big blocks of real time — is by now familiar to cinephiles, but Mr. Puiu puts this scrupulous naturalism to new and seemingly perverse ends. “Aurora” follows an unnervingly opaque man of mystery, played by the director, over a 36-hour period as he goes about his humdrum life and, in a couple of jolting scenes, commits several acts of violence.

“I know it’s a hard film to put a label on,” Mr. Puiu said during an interview here. “But this is pretty much the film I wanted to make.” Here are excerpts from the conversation:

Q. What was the starting point for “Aurora”?

A. One night I switched on the television and saw this program which showed the testimonies of murderers and criminals. They were all delivering a sort of fiction about the facts. It was obvious that they couldn’t really put into words what they did and it was self-preservation instincts that made them build up these stories around the facts, creating reasons and motivations with bits of their own philosophy of life — a whole package of fiction.

Q.How did you end up taking on the lead role?

A. I listened to testimonies and read books and watched documentaries, but I realized that to do this properly, I had to search for the criminal inside myself. I had to subscribe to what Flaubert said: “Madame Bovary, c’est moi.” After months of searching for an actor, Clara Voda, an actress in the film, told me, “Try yourself.” At first I thought I’m too shy, but something interested me when I was auditioning myself. There was something about my look. It was the look of a person who’s concerned by something — I was concerned by my film — and that was what I was looking for, somebody who is looking inside his brain somehow.

Q.You worked with four cinematographers, and the film has a very meticulous visual style. Was it a difficult process having to be both behind and in front of the camera?

A. On “Lazarescu” we shot 39 nights and this one was 80 days. I needed the time to integrate this condition of also being in front of the camera — it was completely schizophrenic. I kept saying to the camera guys to try to watch this character like a father who’s looking at his son who’s taking his first step, and any moment he could fall down and break his leg. It implies love, but it’s also a bit scary.

Q.Much of what we see in “Aurora” seems banal and haphazard, but in retrospect it’s quite a precisely structured movie — can you talk about finding the form of the film?

A. I wanted to repeat the direct-cinema, observational-documentary approach from “Lazarescu,” to create the film in the editing room. But I knew it was important to have the three moments: the time before, in between, and after the killings. It is the same character but our perception of him is changing. I wanted the film to denounce the causality that we install while watching a film or reading a book. This causality is a cultural construction and we need it to survive, but when you get closer to things, it’s not that simple.

Q. I imagine it’s a film that will play very differently on a second viewing.

A. The film has the shape — if I might say without any pretension — of a palimpsest. You have to discover what is behind the things you see. If you didn’t get inside the film the first time, it is very hard to come back to it. But if you did, I think you will be interested to discover things you couldn’t see the first time because of your expectations.

In “The Death of Mr Lazarescu” the title appears and you know this old man is going to die. It’s the model of “Titanic” — everybody knows entering the cinema what will happen, and the accent is on how things will happen. But in “Aurora” I tried to build the film on the unpredictability of the character’s trajectory.

Q. What’s the significance of the title? You’ve said it relates to F.W. Murnau’s silent classic “Sunrise,” which is called “L’Aurore” in French, and is a much more optimistic film than yours.

A. Murnau’s film is about his hopes concerning the relationship between a man and a woman, what that should be. This film is about what I think is the relationship between human beings. Murnau’s idea requires a great amount of tolerance. I don’t know what real life is like outside Romania, but in Bucharest, where I live, relationships are pretty brutal.

The film is about the beginning of a new life for the main character and all the others who are engaged with him. The sunrise is a transitory moment — you cannot say if is night or day, if it will be a cloudy day or a sunny day — but it is about a beginning.

AP: Romanian unions reject government austerity plan


Romanian unions on Monday rejected a government austerity plan to cut public wages by one-fourth and pensions by 15 percent, calling for a compromise to prevent strikes in the public sector.

The decision taken by a council of government officials, unions and business representatives, is not binding.

But it is likely to influence Romanian President Traian Basescu's letter seeking the next installment of a euro20 billion ($25.17 billion) International Monetary Fund-led loan granted last year to help Romania through it economic crisis. Romania's economy shrank by 7.1 percent last year and may contract by as much as 0.5 percent in 2010.

Union members in the council called for the government's loan letter to be redrafted and the agreement with the IMF re-negotiated.

Cezar Coraci, chairman of an industry trade union, said: "Nobody denied we must cut down on unjustified budget expenditure, but that doesn't necessarily mean cutting salaries by 25 percent."

Unions have threatened to call a general strike by 40,000 workers on Wednesday unless the government eases its austerity plan.

OMV Petrom Plans to Spin Off Marketing Division in October

By Irina Savu

May 17 (Bloomberg) -- OMV Petrom SA, Romania’s largest oil company, plans to combine and spin off its three marketing units in October.

Petrom, majority-owned by OMV AG, will transfer 7 percent of its total net assets encompassing its retail, commercial and business administration units to OMV Petrom Marketing SRL, the Bucharest-based company said in astatement sent to the Bucharest Stock Exchange. Shareholders will vote on the spin off during an extraordinary meeting yet to be scheduled.

OMV Petrom Marketing, or OPM, will take over assets including Petrom’s 442 filling stations worth 233 million euros ($287 million) and in exchange will issue new shares worth 776 million lei ($228 million), which will be allocated to Petrom. OPM’s share capital will total 980 million lei after the issue, according to the statement.

“The spin off of the marketing activities currently carried out by OMV Petrom followed by the consolidation thereof with the activities carried out by OPM will allow the companies to ensure a better coordination of activities,” the company said in the statement. “Optimization of the organizational structures and the implementation of common standard business processes will bring the companies increased cost efficiency.”

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

Romania Q1 C/A gap widens, FDI halves

BUCHAREST, May 17 (Reuters) - Romania's current account deficit widened 65.5 percent year-on-year to 1.5 billion euros ($1.9 billion) in the first three months of the year, hit by lower remittances from workers abroad.

Data on Monday also showed foreign direct investment in Romania, much needed to boost the recession-hit economy, halved.

Analysts say troubles in Greece, whose lending in central and eastern Europe is concentrated mainly in Romania and Bulgaria, may also mean more stagnation on the horizon for the European Union's poorest, consumption-based economies.

Bulgaria, which like neighbouring Romania remained in recession in the first quarter, is expected to release January-March external shortfall figures at around 0900 GMT.

Data showed badly needed FDI in Romania fell to 754 million euros compared with 1.48 billion euros in January-March of last year.

Analysts say investors' appetite to invest in Romania has been falling mostly due to uncertainty over the government's ability to finance a ballooning budget deficit and lack of money for infrastructure spending.

About 650 million euros of total FDI represented equity stakes, while 104 million euros represented loans between the parent companies and their resident branches.

Current transfers, which analysts say represent mostly remittances from Romanians working abroad, fell by 63 percent, reflecting pressures on euro zone countries to cut their large pile of debt.

One in ten Romanians have gone to work abroad in recent years, mostly to Spain and Italy, countries which are under pressure to introduce austerity measures to reduce debt. This has reflected in lower wages and higher unemployment.

The external shortfall, once Romania's main vulnerability and reason to seek aid from the International Monetary Fund, narrowed significantly last year as the economy contracted by 7.1 percent.

The bank also said medium- and long-term external debt at the end of March stood at 70 billion euros, 6.9 percent up from end-2009. Short-term debt stood at 15.9 billion euros. ============================================================
CURRENT ACCOUNT (mln euros) -1,506 -910
Trade balance -1,169 -1,547
Exports (FOB) 7,879 6,601
Imports (FOB) 9,048 8,148
Services balance -273 -64
Income balance -518 -518
Current transfers balance 454 1,219

AP: Black Sea beaches eroding

May 17, 2010

CONSTANTA (Romania) - ROMANIAN officials warned on Monday that the country's Black Sea beaches, a destination for vacationers seeking sand and arthritics seeking relief, are eroding and might disappear in 20 years.

Simion Nicolaev, director of the Grigore Antipa Marine Research Institute in this Black Sea city, said 2,200 hectares (5,440 acres) had been eaten away in the past 45 years, while just 70 hectares (173 acres) of fresh sand had been deposited. He said measures needed to be taken to prevent the beaches disappearing altogether.

Environment Minister Laszlo Borbely had said on Sunday that 'stupefying' data from Japanese and Danish studies showed much the same thing.

Mr Nicolaev said an 8-kilometre (5-mile) dam at the port of Sulina, where ships enter and exit the River Danube, is preventing the natural deposit of sand along the coast. He said violent winter storms had contributed to the erosion of the coastline, where the largest beach is just 250 metres (825-feet) wide.

Worst affected is the northern part of the coast, which includes Romania's popular resort of Mamaia, where the coastline has shrunk 500 metres (yards) in recent years. Waves reached the hotels this winter. Mr Nicolaev said anti-erosion measures would be costly. He said underwater seawalls could be constructed to shore up the sand, or officials could physically import and dump sand on the beaches.

In recent years, tourism on Romania's Black Sea coast has suffered. It is concentrated on 80 kilometres (50 miles) of a coastline that runs 245 kilometres (155 miles) from north to south. It draws people on summer vacations as well as those who believe the salt waters and sulfur mud can cure arthritis and other conditions.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Romanian 'New Wave' director's 'mind-blowing' killer movie


BUCHAREST — Romania's "New Wave" supremo Cristi Puiu returns to Cannes on Friday with what he describes as a "mind-blowing" crime story, "Aurora".

Winner in 2005 of the Cannes section showcasing new talent, "Un Certain Regard", for "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu", the 43-year-old is the leading figure of the tiny country's "New Wave" school, which in barely a few years has scooped a bucket of world awards.

Among them are Cristian Mungiu, who won the 2007 Cannes Palme d'Or for "4 months, 3 weeks, 2 days", as well as Corneliu Porumboiu and Catalin Mitulescu.

Talking to AFP in his Bucharest apartment lined with books and CDs, Puiu said of "Aurora": "It's a compelling film that will not let your brain sleep." A three-hour, Romanian, Swiss, French and German co-production, the movie, he said, "blows up narration" as we know it, inciting viewers to "use a detective's tools in order to reconstruct the puzzle."

After "Mr. Lazarescu", the "story of a man who dies" as a victim of an uncaring health-care system, this movie is the "story of a man who kills," he said, but also a love story of its own kind.

In the movie, 42-year-old engineer Viorel drives around Bucharest determined to put an end to the insecurity that has dominated his life since his divorce.

"He decides to make justice as he understands it, brutally intervening in other people's destinies," Puiu explained.

In order to make the movie, the director spent months in jails and morgues, talking to policemen, prosecutors and convicted murderers.

"What I'm interested in is what makes a man kill," he said. But he admitted he still had "no clue", since "we all live in our own minds".

For this second installment of a planned "Six Stories from the Outskirts of Bucharest" Puiu decided to play the leading role.

"I realized I owed it to myself to be Viorel. That was the only way I could be consistent with my idea," he said, after having seen 60-odd professional and amateur actors at work but none of whom had the penetrating eyes he wanted.

Acting, he said, "paradoxically helps you be yourself while impersonating someone else."

But he admitted it was difficult to have his crew follow his directions.

"I told the cameraman to follow Viorel as if he were a toddler just learning to walk and likely to fall at any moment and hurt himself," he said.

"The camera had to be on the guard all the time, not knowing what would happen next, jumping when shots are heard."

With much of the movie filmed through a door frame, Puiu said this was his way of reminding the audience they are "not watching a story but the director's way of telling it".

The title, he said, referred to "the precise moment when day breaks and nature awakes. The character's action throws him into a new life, his whole world is transformed, just like the others'."

Puiu said he was pleased to bring the movie to Cannes, but added:

"It can be booed, dismissed... I don't mind, as long as people see it."

AP: Up to 500 Romanian state sector employees protest


Up to 500 Romanian state-paid employees have protested in Bucharest over authorities' plans to cut salaries and pensions during the economic downturn.

Police officers, employees in education, health and public administration have called Friday for the government to resign.

Various unions in Romania have announced a 40,000-strong protest next Wednesday to put pressure on the government to not go ahead with a 25 percent slash of public workers' wages starting June 1.

Romania's economy has shrunk by 7.1 percent last year and may contract by as much as 0.5 percent in 2010.

The International Monetary Fund led a euro20 billion ($25.17 billion) bailout last year to help Romania through the economic crisis.

Romania's churches boost economyby Lucy Hooker

Building more churches is the answer to Romania's economic crisis, according to the Orthodox church in Bucharest.

A church construction programme will create jobs and help Romanians cope with the despair brought on by recession, church authorities argue.

The Romanian government has announced plans to reduce pensions by 15% and public sector wages by 25%.

But church building programmes must not be axed the Orthodox Patriarchate says.

"In every community the church is a symbol of the faith, of the love, and of the hope of the community. And from an economical point of view every church which is in construction also provides work for citizens," said Father Constantine Stoica, spokesperson for the Romanian Orthodox Church.

Last year the Romanian economy contracted by 7.1%.

Some commentators have suggested that too many new churches are being built when the country still lacks schools and other facilities. But the church disagrees.

"We have to first solve the moral and spiritual crisis and after that we can solve the economic crisis," says Father Stoica.

"The role of the church is very important because inside church the people are taught to maintain hope and faith and solidarity in this very difficult time."

This week pensioners and public sector workers across Romania protested at the cuts which are set to take effect next month.

Before 1989 Romanians lived under a communist regime which discouraged religion. But since the collapse of the Soviet bloc, there has been a revival of religious observance. And existing churches are overcrowded.

Father Stoica is confident that the church building programme will continue despite the criticisms.

"The majority of the money, 80%, is from believers. If they don't get government money the community will find the money to finish the churches."

Story from BBC NEWS:

Friday, May 14, 2010

Build churches to surmount the crisis: Romanian Orthodox leader


BUCHAREST — The Romanian Orthodox Church on Thursday called on the authorities to build more churches in order to surmount the economic crisis and help believers fight "despair".

"Continuing work on churches under construction and building new ones will help surmount the moral and spiritual crisis, just like the economic and financial one," the Orthodox patriarchy wrote in a press release.

This would "create more jobs and fight individualism, by encouraging solidarity among people, and help believers avoid despair," the Church added.

The statement came after the media criticized the authorities' decision to allocate large sums of money to the construction of churches, while the government plans to slash pensions and wages in the public sector by 15 to 25 percent in order to reduce the deficit.

A recent study shows about 4,000 churches have been built in Romania since the fall of communism in 1989, while the number of schools has been more than halved.

About 19.5 million Romanians out of a total population of 21.5 million declared themselves as Orthodox believers in the latest census.

E.ON says Romania could lose energy investors

By Luiza Ilie

BUCHAREST, May 13 (Reuters) - Romania's regulated gas prices and a government plan to consolidate its state power producers are hurting market competition and scaring off foreign investors, the head of utility E.ON Romania said on Thursday.

Frank Hajdinjak, head of the Romanian unit of German utility E.ON, also said Romania badly needed to reform its energy sector and open up its markets or run the risk of seeing investors look to other countries in the Southeast European region to develop projects.

Uncertainty over fiscal policies in the European Union state struggling to shore up its finances and keep a 20 billion euros aid deal with the International Monetary Fund alive was also adding to investors' concerns, he told an energy seminar.

"My fear is that in a few years we'll manage to bring this industry which is very healthy right now to a bad situation," Hajdinjak said. "Romania has all advantages to become a major energy player, but there are many things to be done."

He also criticised a controversial government plan to consolidate its power producers into two energy firms, something he said would limit competition.

Officials have said the overhaul could lower energy costs for consumers and raise competitiveness with regional power giants such as Czech firm CEZ.

"It's not very clear for us how it's designed," Hajdinjak said. "We are very afraid this will diminish competition and it's a step backward. Who should invest in an energy market that has no competition?"

His comments are a rare instance of a foreign investor voicing concerns about government policy in a country many see as a potentially lucrative energy market.

CEZ, for example, is building a 1.1 billion euros wind park in southern Romania.
E.ON, which owns local gas and power distributors and is involved in other energy projects, has repeatedly complained over the European Union state's policy to cap gas tarriffs.

The energy regulator has lowered gas prices twice last year in an attempt to cushion the pain of a painful recession on households and help the central bank contain inflation.

"We are currently selling our gas below our costs ... this situation is not sustainable, it does not attract investors, it shows the market is in a bad situation," said Hajdinjak.

"This will affect the whole production chain. This means we will have job losses in Romania."

Thursday, May 13, 2010

AP: Romanian retirees scuffle with police

May 12, 2010
BUCHAREST, Romania—Romanian retirees have briefly scuffled with police as they tried to force their way into the presidential palace in Bucharest.

More than 500 retirees are protesting in the capital and calling for the president to resign over announced pension cuts.

Romanian media say more than 1,000 people are protesting in other cities around Romania on Wednesday.

Last week President Traian Basescu said public sector wages will be slashed by a quarter and pensions by 15 percent because of the difficult economic situation.

Romania's economy contracted last year by 7.1 percent.

There are about 1.4 million people employed by the state and over 5.5 million retirees.

The IMF led a 20 billion euro ($26.18 billion) bailout last year to help pay state salaries.

Azerbaijan, Georgia, Romania Sign Protocol On Gas Exports

BAKU -- The energy ministers of Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Romania signed a protocol in Tbilisi today on forming a joint venture to export liquified natural gas (LNG) to Europe, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports.

Georgian Energy Minister Aleksandre Khetaguri told reporters the project could prove very profitable.

Azerbaijani Energy Minister Natiq Aliyev said the protocol envisages the construction of new Black Sea coast terminals in Romania and Georgia that will be linked to pipelines.

"It is a new corridor for Azerbaijan," Aliyev said. "This corridor will enable us to independently deliver our gas to Romania, also to Ukraine and Bulgaria. At the same time, we can cross to the Mediterranean Sea."

Aliyev said a feasibility study will be done that will take one year, after which financial issues will be discussed and funding sought.

"Companies or participating countries can finance the project," Aliyev said. "European Union organizations can also contribute to financing."

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Romania, U.S. to soon start negotiations on missile defense


BUCHAREST, May 12 (Xinhua) -- A round of Romanian-U.S. technical talks has taken place in Bucharest on Romania's inclusion in the U.S. missile defense system in Europe, the Romanian Foreign Ministry said in a press release Wednesday.

The agenda of the talks on Tuesday included an exchange of views on technical and judicial aspects of the missile defense sector, the release said.

According to the ministry, the two sides will start soon the official negotiations on the issue.

Romania's Supreme Defence Council, the country's top decision-making body on security and defense issues, decided on Feb. 4 to participate in the development of the U.S. missile defense system in Europe and host components on its territory.

NATO chief Andres Fogh Rasmussen said last week in Bucharest that the missile defense system will be a priority at the Lisbon summit in November, while Romanian high officials stressed to him that hosting of some elements of the missile defense system by Romania will bring an added security not only to the national territory, but to all the Southeastern European states.

More than 1,000 Romanian farmers protest lack of subsidies, demand access to EU funds

By The Associated Press (CP)

BUCHAREST, Romania — More than 1,000 Romanian farmers have protested in Bucharest to demand government subsidies.

Wielding wooden spades and parking their tractors outside government headquarters, the farmers yelled "Resign, resign!"

Union leaders lambasted government agricultural policies.

The farmers say European Union subsidies to finance fuel, and local water subsidies for irrigation, have been delayed.

Farmer Dudulea Stan said he cannot afford 500 lei ($160) a month in water bills for his corn and flower crops.

Romania must make sweeping cuts in public sector wages and pensions to meet an International Monetary Fund budget deficit target. The IMF has revised Romania's forecast for economic growth this year to between zero and minus 0.5 per cent

Romania May Sell Eurobonds by Year End, Dragoi Says

By Irina Savu

May 11 (Bloomberg) -- Romania may sell euro-denominated bonds on international markets this year, Deputy Finance Minister Bogdan Dragoi said.

“I can’t rule out another issue toward the end of this year,” Dragoi told reporters today at a financial seminar in Bucharest. “The price will be very important as it’s a reference for investments in Romania.”

The east European country, which received a 20 billion-euro bailout ($25 billion) last year from an International Monetary Fund-led group, plans to narrow its budget deficit to 6.8 percent of gross domestic product this year from 7.2 percent in 2009. The government has pledged to cut wages by 25 percent and pension and unemployment benefits by 15 percent.

Romania sold 1 billion euros of five-year bonds paying a 5 percent coupon in March in the country’s biggest debt offering. The government revived the sale, which was canceled in November, to take advantage of renewed investor confidence after Prime Minister Emil Boc pledged austerity measures in the 2010 budget.

The yield has risen to 5.737 percent from 4.963 percent since the bonds were sold, according to Bloomberg prices.

Romania has to make 10 billion euros of debt payments this year, including 2 billion euros to cover interest, Dragoi said.

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

U.S. Marines, Sailors arrive in Romania

5/10/2010 By Staff Sgt. Christopher Flurry , Black Sea Rotational Force


Marines and Sailors put boots on the ground in Romania, May 8, and stepped into history as the first Security Cooperation Marine Air Ground Task Force in the Black Sea region.

The main body of troops forming Black Sea Rotational Force 2010 arrived to Romania’s Mihail Kogalniceanu Airfield; a move Marine officials said will foster an increased friendship between U.S. and partner nations.

U.S. troops are deployed here to participate in cooperative activities with partner nations in the Caucasus, Balkan and Black Sea regions. The primary goals of the U.S. rotational force are to promote regional stability, build enduring partnerships with nations in the region, and help those nations build their military capabilities.

Black Sea Rotational Force is scheduled to officially begin May 17, and end in late July. During the rotation, U.S. troops will train with partner nations in peacekeeping operations at training facilities in Babadag, Romania and Novo Selo, Bulgaria, as well as conduct military-to-military familiarization events in nations throughout the region in specialties including nonlethal weapon use, military intelligence and noncommissioned officer development. Additionally, there are scheduled symposiums on subjects including civil affairs, logistics and amphibious operations.

More than 100 Marines and Sailors from across the United States and Marine Corps Forces Europe are formed in the Security Cooperation MAGTF while in the region. In a Marine Air Ground Task Force, command, logistics combat, air combat and ground combat elements are organized under a single commander for a specific purpose.

The Black Sea Rotational Force MAGTF as described by Marine Forces Europe is a tailorable and scalable force. The MAGTF will be focused on the performance of security cooperation and civil-military operations throughout the deployment.

“What we’re accomplishing here is 40 percent of Marine Forces Europe’s theater security cooperation requirements in a 3-month period,” said Lt. Col. Tom Gordon, battalion commander for 1st Tank Battalion and commander of the Black Sea Rotational Force Security Cooperation MAGTF.

The core of the rotational force comes from 1st Tank Bn., based out of Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif. 1st Tanks Marines and Sailors form the command and logistics combat elements of the Security Cooperation MAGTF, and provide a scout platoon as the ground combat element for training with partner nations. 1st Tank Bn. is slated to remain in the Black Sea region throughout the rotation.

The air combat element of the MAGTF will come from Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 452, a Marine reserve squadron stationed at Newburgh, N.Y. VMGR-452 and its compliment of two KC-130 aircraft are scheduled to arrive to the region in late May. The detachment will support the Black Sea training by transporting U.S. and partner-nation forces, and participating in bilateral training with Romanian special forces.

Additional support for the Security Cooperation MAGTF comes from Marine Corps Forces Reserve’s 4th Civil Affairs Group. Civil affairs Marines will work with partner-nation forces to conduct community improvement projects and training in the region.

“The people of Romania have been very excited about our arrival,” said Staff Sgt. Aaron Weiss, the operations chief for the civil affairs Marines, and a native of Marietta, Ga. “We’re looking at having Marines from around the entire unit going out and interacting with the community.”

For the deployed Marines, learning about Romania’s unique culture and language are on the agenda.

“Everything is just a little different,” said Cpl. Devin Bullard, a tube-launched, optically-tracked, wirelessly guided missile, or TOW, gunner with 1st Tank Bn.’s scout platoon. “The cars, the road signs and the architecture – it’s all really interesting.”

But regardless of the language or location, the Marines said they are ready to do what they came here for, train in tandem with partner-nation forces.

“I’m looking forward to see what we have to offer each other and learning together,” added Bullard.

Gordon said Black Sea Rotational Force is crucial to maintaining valuable relationships between the U.S. and partner nations in the Black Sea, Balkan and Caucasus regions.

“We’re engaging with 13 nations, of which 12 have fought by our side, contributing to Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom,” said Gordon, a native of Boston. “Romania is fighting in Afghanistan now, shoring up our flank in Zabul province.”

Gordon explained the partnership between the U.S., Romania and other nations in the region will help ensure success of the Black Sea Rotational Force.

“It’s an engagement, that’s grown into a partnership, that we want to develop into a friendship,” said Gordon. “MARFOREUR hopes to build upon our success for the future.”