Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Romanian "sound" takes over dance music scene

By Isabelle Wesselingh (AFP)

BUCHAREST — Like dancing and looking for new club music? Move over London and Ibiza, it's time to check out .... Romania.

Artists from this eastern European state have inched their way onto the international scene to beat out Lady Gaga for a big US dance song award, score millions of views on YouTube and sell hundreds of thousands of singles.

Among the best known are Edward Maya and Inna, now worldwide dance floor stars -- and the pride and joy of this former communist country stuck in an economic crisis and still fighting a reputation abroad as corrupt and poor.

"Romanian dance music is very successful around the world at the moment with big hits in Europe and the US," Eelko van Kooten, director of one of the major dance labels, Dutch-based Spinnin'Records, told AFP.

In May, the 24-year-old Maya -- real name Eduard Marian Ilie -- won the American Billboard Award for "top dance song" of the year for "Stereo Love", no small feat for an artist who only caught the public's eye in 2009 and was competing in a line-up that included megastar Lady Gaga.

The dark-eyed performer sports his trendy stubble as easily as his accordion, more folk than house music instrument but one he readily uses for a new mix that caught attention. Since the 2009 release of "Stereo Love", the Bucharest-born composer has won gold and platinum albums from Canada to Spain and toured clubs as far away as India and Pakistan.

Maya's compatriot Inna -- real name Alexandra Apostoleanu -- made her own quick rise to the top and can boast sales of nearly two million singles worldwide, notably in the United States and Britain.

The 24-year-old brunette has had more than 100 million views on YouTube for her hits like "Amazing", "Sun is Up" or "Hot" and more than two million fans on Facebook from Australia to South America.

"I would never have imagined such a success!" she told AFP after shooting a videoclip in a Bucharest factory. "I now see other Romanian dance artists in concerts around the world."

For Inna, a "special vibration" unites the new generation of dance music artists in Romania. All in their twenties, they grew up after the fall of communism and "really want to make party music, something that gets people on the dance floor," she said.

But what explains their international success?

Some say it's the "glamour", videoclips that show the leggy Inna, Alexandra Stan and other Romanian artists in breathtaking seaside settings with dancers straight out of glossy fashion magazines. But this is nothing new in pop music.

Industry figures, instead, point to a basement studio in a house in a leafy residential district of the capital. There, a determined 20-something trio called Play & Win mix sound for hours on end in a room with a piano, a large table and some powerful computers.

The three, Radu Bolfea, Marcel Botezan and Sebastian Barac, all born in the mountains of Transylvania, are credited with creating a "Romanian" sound that has turned out some of the country's biggest dance music hits, by Inna and others.

"Club music did not really have melody so we tried to introduce more melodic lines in it," they said modestly.

For Terry, the artistic director -- who goes by one name -- at the famous Loft Metropolis club near Paris where Inna and Alexandra Stan have played live, the Romanians have come up with a sound that's "very efficient and dedicated to the dance floor", even if it's "nothing extraordinary".

Spinnin'Records' Van Kooten calls it friendly. "Romanian dance music has its own sound: simple melodies, catching course lines," he said. "It's easy to sing along and very radio friendly with a midtempo."

At the moment "it's the trend," he added. "But like fashion, trends go fast."

Play & Win also site Internet's role in promoting Romanian dance music. "It's a real test because people truly say what they think about your music, and you can get worldwide," they said.

Neither they nor singers or managers were keen to talk about how much they make from dance music. "We can live well from what we do," Play & Win said.

But they don't hide their delight at success. "Yes, sometimes we are proud that from here, a country sometimes described as Third World, we are trend setters in Europe and in the US", Play & Win said.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Oxford Business Group Latest Briefing: Romania: Centre stage

Funding from the European Union continues to support the structural transformation of Romania’s agricultural sector, which has historically served as one of Europe’s leading breadbaskets, interrupted only by mismanagement during the Communist era.

Romania’s wheat production is set to rise 7% this year to more than 6m tonnes, up from 5.6m tonnes in 2010, according to the agriculture minister, Valeriu Tabara. This is despite the country reducing its area for wheat cultivation to 1.8m ha, down from 2m ha in 2010. Wheat production has been growing steadily in recent years, rising from 5.2m tonnes in 2008.

Both rising output and regional market factors point towards increasing export potential. Russia and Ukraine, two huge agricultural exporters in the Black Sea region, have imposed limitations on grain exports, Russia banning them outright and Ukraine issuing quotas. The curbs have provided an opportunity for Romania, along with other countries, to fill the gap on the world markets.

Romania, together with its significantly smaller neighbours Bulgariaand Moldova, is forecast to boost its wheat exports to 5.5m tonnes for the full agricultural year 2010-11, up from 4.4m tonnes in 2009-10, while maize exports are expected to grow from 3m tonnes to 4.1m tonnes and those of barley from 1.1m tonnes to 1.5m tonnes, according to Dian Donev, the director of Scanwel, a Bulgaria-based trading company with interests in the agricultural sector.

Russia may resume exports in June, the beginning of the 2011-12 agricultural year, though there is considerable uncertainty over the issue, and it seems likely that some form of export cap will be retained. In any case, with global and domestic demand for food continuing to rise, Romania’s farmers are likely to have a healthy market outlook for the foreseeable future.

While it exported 2.4m tonnes of wheat in 2010, at €150-€170 per tonne, the country only covered 70% of its domestic demand, according to Aurel Popescu, the president of the Romanian Employers’ League of the Milling, Bakery and Flour-Based Products Industry. Popescu told local press that Romanian mills and bakeries are currently importing wheat at €300-€320 per tonne.

The sector’s recovery has been strongly supported by the EU.Brussels has long focused on developing the agricultural sectors ofaccession countries before and after they join the EU, including through the Special Accession Programme for Agriculture and Rural Development. In 2010 Brussels increased direct payments to Romanian farmers to RL680 (€165) per ha, up from RL475 (€115) in 2009. In 2011 the EU is granting Romania €907m, or €101 per ha, and this will be augmented by Romanian state funds.

The World Bank is also supporting Romania’s agricultural growth. AsPeter Harrold, the bank’s country manager for Central and Eastern Europe, noted in a recent interview with the international press, rural areas of Romania are home to a significant proportion of Europe’s poorest people, making it a priority sector for future development.

Harrold called for Romania to adopt a strategy to boost agricultural productivity and yields to stimulate investment in the sector. Consolidation of land into larger farms, including cultivation of land currently left fallow, would also be beneficial, enhancing economies of scale and output. Harrold also highlighted the potential for harnessing foreign investment in agriculture and the role it could play in increasing exports.

However, Harrold warned that Romania must also improve its process of external fund absorption, drawing attention to a long-term malaise in the country that has seen large sums from the EU either unused or wasted. While Romania has made considerable progress in tackling corruption and administrative inefficiency, there is still some way to go.

In the longer term, though the EU is likely to continue giving financial support to agriculture across the continent, Romania will need to be weaned off some agricultural funding as its smaller farms grow and become strong enough to stand on their own feet. Recent evidence suggests that, if the current cash supply is spent wisely and partnered with a strong flow of private investment, Romania can build its position as a European breadbasket.

Sturgeon's death highlights threat to ancient fish

TULCEA, Romania (AP) — Alas, poor Harald. Wired up to a satellite transmitter, he had much to teach science about the life of the great sturgeons of the Danube River and Black Sea.

His probable demise is a cautionary tale of the multiplying threats to the great sturgeons, sought since Roman times for the wealth they yield in meat and caviar.

Consider: A living creature from the age of the dinosaurs, a fish that can grow as long as a minibus, lives longer than most men, sniffs its way to its birthplace to spawn and can yield a fortune in caviar.

When in 2009 a team of Romanian and Norwegian researchers attached a satellite transmitter to Harald's 2.9 meter (9½-foot) body, they hoped the data beamed back would show them ways of halting the rapid drop in the sturgeons' numbers. But now the Beluga sturgeon is missing, presumed to be a victim of poachers.

Sturgeon have thrived in the Danube for 200 million years, migrating from feeding grounds in the Black Sea to Germany 2,000 kms (1,200 miles) upstream. Archaeologists have found wooden sturgeon traps in the ruins of Roman fortresses behind the willow trees on the Danube's banks, along with sturgeon bones dated to the 3rd century.

In the 1970s and '80s Romania built giant dams across the Iron Gates gorge, cutting off half the sturgeons' spawning grounds.

Fishermen, unrestrained after the collapse of order in eastern Europe in 1989, caught them in huge numbers as they began their migration, trapping them before they could reproduce. Pollution from agricultural run-off and expanding cities put them under further pressure, although the construction of water treatment plants in the last decade has lessened the flow of filth.

Now environmentalists are trying to head off the latest threat: a European Union plan to deepen shipping channels in the Danube that they fear could eliminate the last shallows where the sturgeon deposit their eggs, which would doom the fish to vanish in its last stronghold in Europe.

"Right now it's teetering on the edge of extinction," said Andreas Beckmann, director of the Danube-Carpathian program of the Worldwide Fund for Nature, or WWF. "That one project, depending on how it's done, could push it over the edge."

Under the plan, engineers would block partially several side channels of the Danube and divert water to the main fairway, enabling year-round shipping through what are now low-water bottlenecks. Concrete would reinforce the banks of some islands.

European and Romanian officials insist the proposed action would not further endanger the fish in the wild, free-flowing waters of the Lower Danube.

"There will be enough water to ensure migration," said Serban Cucu, a senior Transport Ministry official and Romanian negotiator. Still, construction has been delayed for a year to allow more monitoring of the channels.

"If the data collected shows there is some influence, we will decide together whether to stop the project," said Cucu, interviewed in his Bucharest office.

Sturgeon, which can live a century or more in both salt and fresh water, are genetically wired to reproduce only where they themselves were born. Equipped with four nostrils, each fish sniffs its way to its birthplace, says researcher Radu Suciu.

After the Iron Gates went up, fish west of the two dams effectively were rendered infertile. The reproduction rate was reduced by half, said Suciu, of the Danube Delta National Institute in Tulcea, at the mouth of the Danube Delta.

Even now, 40 years later, older fish congregate at the foot of the dam in spawning season.

This month, conservationists, governments and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization agreed to explore building a fish ladder for the sturgeon to crawl around the Iron Gates dams. But unlike salmon, sturgeon cannot jump and would have to use powerful underside muscles to climb nearly 40 meters (130 feet) through a chain of pools.

In a separate attempt to revive sturgeon stocks, experiments have begun to breed sturgeon in fish farms, safe from poachers who kill them for their roe, which is processed into expensive caviar.

In 1999, Stelic Gerghi, an unemployed aquaculture engineer from the Tulcea area, famously caught a 450 kilogram (990-pound) fish and extracted 82 kilograms (180 pounds) of roe. It earned him enough to finish building his home and buy a new car. He is now serving his third term as mayor of the Vacareni district.

International trade in sturgeon was banned in 2001, and in 2006 Romania outlawed sturgeon fishing, followed by Serbia, Ukraine, Moldova and lately Bulgaria.

"We stopped the clock," says Suciu.

But as Harald's story illustrates, the threats have not disappeared.

Harald, named for the king of Norway because that country sponsors sturgeon research, was 12 years old and weighed 80 kilograms (175 pounds) when he was caught and taken to an experimental farm. There his sperm was harvested to artificially fertilize the eggs of females.

After a month he was tagged with a transmitter and released back into the Danube in May 2009, carrying the hopes of scientists to learn how sturgeons travel and behave.

"He was in very good health, a strong fish," said Suciu.

He made his way downstream to the Danube Delta and into the Black Sea. Abhorring light, he stayed in murky depths of 10 to 50 meters (30-150 feet).

Scientists pieced together his movements from 11,000 messages transmitted over five days after the tag reached the surface six months later.

Harald had foraged for herring, sprats, mackerel and other small fish for several weeks. Then in October he swam north.

Suddenly, on Nov. 2, he stopped moving. For three days he stayed on the bottom of the sea, 65 meters (215 feet) down, immobile.

During the night of Nov. 6, sometime after 2 a.m., Harald rose swiftly to the surface and went in a straight line 11 kilometers (7 miles) to Ukraine's Crimean coast. He remained offshore for two days and on land for another two. The transmitter's final messages, plotted with the help of Google Earth, indicated movement along a railway line.

Much of Harald's data was lost during transmission to the satellite, but the scientists had enough information to surmise his fate: he had been snared by a hook or net, then hauled up in the dead of night and taken ashore by rowboat.

"This was really sad. It was a young fish. He came into the Danube to spawn for the first time," said Suciu.

But the scientist was consoled that Harald left offspring that were released into the river. "The sons and daughters of Harald are safe in the Black Sea. He didn't die for nothing," he said.

Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Special report: Romania’s roads to nowhere

By Luiza Ilie, Reuters May 28, 2011

On a crisp evening last December, Romanian Transport Minister Anca Boagiu met German investors in the conference room of a hotel in downtown Bucharest. A petite woman with dark hair pulled back in a severe bun at the nape of her neck, she was introduced as “the minister in charge of making up for lost time.”

On the screen behind Boagiu, slides showed a succession of maps with yet-to-be-built motorways, ring roads and bypasses. There were ambitious new national roads, upgraded railway lines, train stations, ports and airports. The conference room’s 21st-floor windows gave onto a breathtaking view of the capital. Block after block, mile after mile was clogged with traffic.

“My task,” she told the investors, eyeing them from behind rimless eyeglasses, “is to recover delays in infrastructure.” 

The gaps Boagiu must fill are huge – and common in scores of developing countries from Eastern Europe to Africa to Asia. But Romania’s story also exposes another issue, one which goes to the heart of the European project. 

The country, which shook off communism in 1989 and joined the European Union in 2007, has a potential 4.6 billion euros in EU funding for transport infrastructure, available until 2013. By the end of last year, Bucharest had managed to use just 47 million euros of that. If Boagiu can’t find a way to speed up projects and use the funds, the country will lose them. 

Like countries suddenly enriched by the discovery of oil, former communist states that have access to billions in European Union development funds can find them both blessing and curse. The funds – 160 billion euros between 2007 and 2013 across the former eastern bloc – are meant to help new members catch up with the rest of the EU. 

But what if a country like Romania simply can’t absorb that cash? Should it concentrate on fixing its government services and institutions – its software, as it were – before it can move to fancy new hardware like motorways? Is it possible to graft developed-world standards onto states whose institutions are running years behind those of the donors?

“Public investment spending is not small,” Romania’s central bank Governor Mugur Isarescu told a news conference last October. “But there are 42,000 unfinished investment projects in Romania. This is not efficient. We are the country of unfinished projects.”

Romania’s infrastructure deficit dates back more than 20 years, to when the country was in the grip of Nicolae Ceausescu, one of Communism’s most repressive dictators. In the 1980s, Ceausescu backed an export-led drive to clear Romania of billions of dollars in foreign debt, slashing investment to pay off creditors. That left infrastructure lagging behind even Romania’s Balkan neighbours – countries that historically had been much poorer.

According to a global competitiveness report by the World Economic Forum, Romania ranks just 134th out of 139 countries by the quality of its roads. The WEF says transport infrastructure is still one of the chief reasons hampering investment. The country is the EU’s ninth-largest member by land area, but has only 331 kilometres of motorway, less than half that of neighbouring Hungary and not even three per cent of Germany’s 12,813 km.

Go for a drive in Romania (population 22 million) and you can bump for hours over gravel country roads to reach villages – some without electricity, indoor plumbing or running water – whose schools have closed because the young have moved away for a better life. Dusty national roads lead past lush farmland that is failing to achieve its potential because machinery is outdated and land ownership fragmented. Cities are choked with traffic because there’s no way to drive around them. The rail system is no better. Outdated trains travel at an average 45 km per hour, while elsewhere in Europe the top speed can hit 320 km/hour.

When mobile phone maker Nokia announced it was moving a production plant to Romania from Germany in 2008, horses and carts still travelled the road to the new site. That year, Daimler chose Hungary over Romania or Poland as the site of an 800-million-euro car factory with about 2,500 jobs. Hungary, which has higher labour costs and tax rates than Romania, credited the win to its dense network of motorways.
With a cheap and skilled labour force and attractive flat tax on income and profit, Romania has attracted investment by carmakers Renault and Ford. But even they have complained about the roads. “When it bought the plant, Ford wanted to build 1,000 cars a day and ... that would bring a lot of money and jobs to Romania,” U.S. ambassador Mark Gitenstein told a Romanian television station in April. “But unless there is a motorway ... it will not make 1,000 cars a day or hire so many people. You need motorways.”

None of Romania’s existing motorways connect the country with its neighbours. It’s a closed system. Even ambitious projects like the Transylvania Motorway have so far failed to live up to their promise.

U.S. construction group Bechtel broke official ground on Romania’s biggest motorway at a site near the 15th-century Transylvanian village of Valisoara on a mild summer day in 2004. Then-prime minister Adrian Nastase cut ceremonial ribbons and excavators bit into the ground to the soundtrack of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

On that day, the future seemed almost tangible: there would be a smooth, spacious four-lane motorway, 415 km long with more than 300 bridges, 70 overpasses and 19 interchanges, connecting the central Romanian region of Transylvania to Hungary. The road would bring jobs, tourists and foreign investors.
“A motorway is forever,” Michael Mix, Bechtel’s then project manager, said in a 2007 company brief. “It is a legacy.”

Seven years since the project began, a little more than 10 per cent of the road has been delivered. The state has paid Bechtel more than one billion euros of public money and analysts say the project will end up costing at least double the initial estimate of 2.2 billion euros. The deadline has been pushed back a year to 2013, but could end up taking years longer.

Rather than being forever, “it feels as if this motorway may take forever,” quipped Ana Otilia Nutu, an infrastructure expert at Romanian Academic Society, a think tank.

Infrastructure projects and overruns go hand in hand the world over. But a 2010 study by JASPERS, a European Union agency that helps eastern European states prepare projects eligible for EU cash, found cost overruns were more likely in Romania than in eight other central and eastern European states included in the study, largely because of weak public administration.

Even by Romanian standards, the Bechtel example is extreme. In the years since the groundbreaking, government inquiries have found the deal disadvantaged Bucharest from the start. The project was granted to Bechtel without a public tender, despite clear legislation demanding transparency. This angered international bodies including the European Union, which said it wouldn’t support it, leaving the financing burden to the state.

At the time of the initial deal, Nastase said Romania could not afford to navigate a lengthy tender process if it wanted to catch up with affluent western European states. He lost power in late 2004, and a new centre-right coalition government put motorway works on hold while it renegotiated.

Those talks, which lasted for eight months, showed how the initial contract was bad for Romania. The deal committed the country to giving Bechtel an interest-free loan of 250 million euros, on top of monthly payments for works. It made it virtually impossible under Romanian law to pursue compensation if Bechtel failed to meet its obligations. It left Bechtel in charge of controlling costs, giving it a free hand to decide the route. It even contained translation errors unfavourable to Romania, the transport ministry said in 2005.
A revised contract cut 126 million euros off the overall price. It scrapped the interest-free loan, and the government took over road design – which gave it more control over costs. At the same time, most of the terms were made public.

But according to a former government official, important details – including some related to prices and quantities of construction materials that point to significantly higher costs down the line – remained hidden in confidential clauses. Together with other penalties, these would continue to make the motorway’s price “onerous” over time, said the former government official, who has seen the full contract and spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

In subsequent years, a series of governments failed to allot sufficient funds to buy land or relocate utilities. Bucharest also fell behind on payments. The transport ministry’s national road company, CNADR, said in March it owed Bechtel 105 million euros despite having forked out just under half the initial estimated cost. Bechtel has finished 13 per cent of the total commission.

At the start of this year, Bechtel fired 800 workers – most of its staff in Romania – over its unpaid bill. Boagiu, who has talked with the company about costs, says her focus is on motorway projects eligible for EU funds. No budget has yet been allotted for the Transylvania Motorway for 2011.

In spite of all this, Romania is locked into the deal – both legally and practically, since any abandoned work would deteriorate and create an even bigger problem. Some government officials have said Bucharest may reconsider its position when work ends on the section under construction. But it would be hard to walk away altogether. “The contract is (virtually) unbreakable,” a current government official said, also on condition of anonymity. “The compensation costs to Bechtel would be forbidding.”

Bechtel representatives in Romania declined to comment until current negotiations reach a conclusion.

This is not the first time Boagiu has been transport minister. She briefly held the position in 2000 in a one-year government led by current central bank governor Isarescu.

“When I came back to the ministry I found projects untouched since I left them here 10 years ago,” she told Reuters. “These were projects that had studies and funding that could have been done but weren’t because of ignorance and carelessness.”

She talks tough about unpicking cozy arrangements. “There is great friendship between builders, consultants and some employees of the national road company,” she said she told the German investors. “Well, no more.”
Some progress is already apparent. Boagiu has passed changes to speed up land appropriation and tender challenges, and introduced cost standards. One kilometre of motorway should now cost 3.8 million-6 million euros, depending on the terrain. Previous projects have cost more than 10 million euros per km.

She has enforced a rule limiting cost variations to no more than 10 per cent of the contract’s initial value, which she says will deter bidders from underestimating their costs to win tenders, only to increase prices later.
The ministry has nixed projects, including, in April, cancelling a motorway contract with French company Colas after it failed to meet a deadline and asked for additional cash.

Boagiu has also chosen winning tenders for several EU-backed motorways, with work set to start this year. She says Romania should have another 532 km of motorway by 2015, an estimate some transporters and analysts see as optimistic.

Importantly, Boagiu has increased Romania’s absorption of EU transport funds from 47 million euros at the end of 2010 to 113 million in March. It’s still only a fraction of the total, but it is progress and she says she can boost the rate to 20 per cent by the end of the year.

“We have projects to cover the entire amount and we must tap these funds,” Boagiu said.

The “minister of lost time” has a reputation for getting things done. “Compared to other former transport ministers, Anca Boagiu seems much more credible,” said the Romanian Academic Society’s Nutu. “What matters is that after many problems we are getting to a point where works are ready to start on several motorway projects.”

Plenty of obstacles remain. Low wages and political involvement in job appointments have resulted in a shortage of skilled staff at the state road-building company. Only eight per cent of the company’s staff are engineers and traffic studies are out of date.

There are also legal headaches. Before a contractor can start work, the government must buy the land, which in a former communist state is perhaps the biggest holdup of all. Sometimes registry documents do not exist and descendants are fighting each other through the courts. In other cases, landowners sue the state for a better price, freezing projects for years.

Construction firms that fail to win tenders often challenge the auctions, delaying works, in a move that analysts and even Boagiu said was often a tactic to force the winning bidder to subcontract parts of the project.

On top of all this, contractors digging in Romania’s ancient soil often stumble on archaeological discoveries that must be preserved – 11 have been found near the Valisoara village where Bechtel broke ground – as well as utility pipelines, which the state must relocate at its own expense.

All this creates a seemingly never-ending cycle, made worse by a disorganized public administration. “From my point of view, the lack of motorways in Romania is due 60 per cent to incompetence, 30 per cent to corruption and 10 per cent to valid, objective reasons,” former finance minister Sebastian Vladescu told Reuters.

“Political and individual interests may be present to a higher degree in Romania than in other states. But Romanians are incompetent more than they are corrupt. If Romanians were corrupt they would do everything in their power to attract EU funds so they can spend them. That has not been the case.”

Nutu from the Romanian Academic Society puts the main problem down to an overall lack of public accountability. It means infrastructure development keeps faltering, which fosters mistrust.

The doubt seems even to run all the way up to President Traian Basescu.
“If you ever want to truly see Romania, don’t use the roads,” Basescu told a meeting of potential investors from the Gulf in March. “I recommend a helicopter.”

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Der Spiegel: Leap of Desperation

The Protest that Shook Romania

By Barbara Supp in Bucharest

Last December, a Romanian man made headlines when he leapt off a seven-meter-high balcony in the parliament in Bucharest. Adrian Sobaru's protest against the country's austerity measures has made him a hero for some and sparked a debate over Romania's future. But what did his gesture really mean?

He got up at three in the morning, but without telling his wife why. He took out a white T-shirt and, with a dark marker, wrote on it: "You have gunned us down. You have killed our children's future. You can take away our money and our lives, but not our freedom."

He put on a shirt over the T-shirt and went to work. On this particular day, his job as a lighting technician with the state-owned television station took him to the parliament in Bucharest, as it often did. He waited on one of the balconies, 7 meters (23 feet) above the assembly hall, and when the prime minister had stepped up to the podium Adrian Sobaru, a slim, 42-year-old man, climbed onto the balcony railing, tore open his shirt, looked down at the government, and jumped.

"Like an airplane," says opposition politician Eugen Nicolaescu. "He spread out his arms as if he were trying to fly. He landed on a bench in the back."

"I can still see it happening in front of my eyes," says Finance Minister Gheorghe Ialomitianu. "It's hard to forget."

It happened on Dec. 23, 2010, in the last session at the end of a messy political year. Since then, political and business leaders in Romania, a financially ailing and relatively recent European Union member, have been arguing over the meaning of Sobaru's act. Everyone -- from politicians in the administration and the opposition, to union officials and business leaders -- has an opinion about it. Should it be interpreted as a strange aberration? Or as an act of revolt, a symbolic act of protest that will remain lodged in the collective memory and forcibly bring about political change?

'Tough but Necessary'

Finance Minister Ialomitianu, who has been in office since late 2008, receives us in the crescent-shaped Finance Ministry. He is wearing the sort of dark, understated pinstriped suit often seen in the world of high finance. He is looked after by a staff that has seen many finance ministers come and go.

On this day, Ialomitianu is speaking on behalf of a government that has already taken many of the steps that are still to come in Greece and Portugal: the center-right government of Emil Boc, which cut pay for government workers by 25 percent in 2010, slashed pensions and social benefits and raised the rate of value-added tax from 19 to 24 percent. These were "important decisions to secure economic and business stability," says the minister. "Some affect certain segments of society. This is tough, but necessary. There was no alternative. We had to do it."

Ialomitianu is referring to Romania's austerity program, the harshest in Europe.

It was implemented in a country that often attracts less attention than others, a country that is part of Europe, but not yet entirely. It is still not part of the Schengen zone or the euro zone, although it aims to become a member. It is also a low-wage country that experienced a boom for many years as an international production site, followed by a sharp crash during the financial crisis. Notorious for its shadow economy, tax evasion and illegal employment, Romania, together with Greece and Bulgaria, ranks among the most corrupt European countries in Transparency International's annual ratings. The country is deeply in debt -- with the EU, the World Bank and, most of all, the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

When it issues its loans, the IMF has a habit of pressuring borrowing nations to impose austerity measures, privatize government-owned industry and clean up their national budgets. Sitting in his ministry, Ialomitianu stresses that he speaks on behalf of a government that makes its own decisions, and that the IMF or the European Commission are not the ones calling the shots in Bucharest. The government, he says, is responsible for the drastic austerity measures that drove Adrian Sobaru to jump from a balcony in the parliament building and drove protesters into the streets in the previous fall. The finance minister has already had to seek shelter in the safety of his office, fleeing from angry employees resentful over the cuts. He insists that he remains undaunted, however, and that the Romanian economy is making headway. Future governments, he adds, will be grateful for the current administration's decisions.

'A Terrible Moment'

Ialomitianu has a degree in finance from a university in Transylvania and has also studied in various European countries. He would like to see Romania fulfill the criteria to become part of the euro zone as quickly as possible, although 2015 is usually mentioned as the target year. He also hopes to attract more foreign investment to Romania, and his words suggest a willingness to accommodate the markets. He says: "Of course it's difficult for people. No one likes to see his income reduced." Ialomitianu clearly interpreted Sobaru's jump as an act of criticism.

The minister was there, and witnessed how reality suddenly burst into the protected realm of the parliament from the world outside. "It was a terrible moment. No government that makes decisions wants something like that to happen." The minister clears his throat, searching for the right words to convey both sympathy and outrage, and then he says: "I don't think this is the appropriate way to demonstrate one's dissatisfaction."

A few days before jumping from the balcony, Sobaru wrote a letter in red ink on lined paper. In the letter, which was never sent, he wrote: "You have sold the country and its people. Do you expect all of us to dig through the garbage? Romania is falling apart. We have been lied to and deceived, every day." He wrote that he loved his family more than his own life, and he wrote about his autistic son Calin, who needs special treatment that the family can no longer afford. "I'm tired," he wrote. "We have no dreams left."

"He was standing up here," says opposition politician Nicolaescu, as he looks down at the assembly hall from the balcony, "and he landed on that bench over there. The doctors came quickly."

The parliament meets in the former "People's House" built by former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, an extravagant structure that was not designed with small dimensions in mind. Seven meters is a long way to fall -- that is very clear when one looks down into the chamber.

When it happened, there was turmoil among the members of parliament. Some saw the blood, and some wept. The prime minister rushed from the podium to Sobaru's side. Paramedics carried the severely injured man through the hallways of the palace. The speaker of the senate cut the session short. Ironically, a vote of no confidence against the government had been on the agenda that day.

'Something Has to Change'Nicolaescu, a wiry man in his mid-40s, with gray hair and a suggestive look in his eyes, is the deputy chairman of the center-right National Liberal Party (PNL), which holds positions similar to those of the ruling conservative Democratic Liberal Party (PDL) but is nevertheless at odds with the PDL. Until October 2009, the two parties ruled the country jointly. "This man who jumped wanted to emphasize how poorly Romania is run. He wanted to make it clear that something has to change."

The PNL is fundamentally in favor of the harsh program of cost-cutting and belt-tightening, but Nicolaescu is opposed to the VAT increase and advocates reducing taxes. He would like to see the country's low flat tax of 16 percent on all personal and corporate income be reduced even further, so that Romania can compete with low-tax countries.

Although he studied economics, Nicolaescu was health minister for three years. He would prefer it if the austerity program were not being used to satisfy the IMF's conditions. Nicolaescu would rather see Romania clean up its finances on its own steam, and using its own tough approach.

His party has been out of power for the last one-and-a-half years. It is so determined to get back in power that it formed an alliance within the opposition with the Social Democrats, a party with which the PNL actually has far less in common than with the governing parties. No-confidence votes had been the opposition parties' joint approach. Another such vote was on the agenda on Dec. 23, 2010, but its prospects for success were slim.

"We did not vote on that day. We in the opposition left the assembly hall after the incident. We felt that this man's act was more than a no-confidence vote, more than just a vote. Everyone in Romania heard about it."

Of course Sobaru and his act were discussed within the party, says Nicolaescu, as he lowers his voice ominously. "He jumped as the prime minister was speaking. We have to take this seriously. Now, whenever we reach a decision, we always have to ask ourselves: What would this man say about it now?"

Disappointment with 1989

Outside a pockmarked apartment block in northwest Bucharest, the streets are lined with gaunt-looking trees and full of parked small cars, and there are no names next to the doorbells on the wall of the building. Madalina Sobaru welcomes SPIEGEL to the family apartment on the 11th floor, together with Calin, the autistic son, and his younger sister Alexia. Adrian Sobaru is also there. He survived his jump and walks with a slight limp today. A slim man with dark eyes, he greets his visitors with a smile. He is a quiet man.

He offers us chips, nuts, water, wine and soft drinks in the living room of the crowded three-room apartment he shares with his wife and children, his mother and his uncle. He mentions politely how honored he is to meet us, and he tries to drown out Calin, who is trying to collect and examine the visitors' mobile phones. Calin does not leave the room, but instead keeps repeating the same sentence in English. "I want to go to Germany," he whines. He is an awkward 15-year-old who knows things many don't know -- facts, words and numbers -- who loves his computer and would quickly eat up all the chips if he could.

Calin saw his father's jump on the Internet. Sobaru himself only watched half of the video -- the part in which he is airborne.

"I wanted to say something. That's why I was there." He says that it wasn't important who happened to be standing at the podium in the room below at that moment. Sobaru's message was directed at everyone, at all politicians and parties.

Sobaru is not a person who draws much attention to himself, or at least he wasn't until recently. The year 1989, he says, was a boost, a brief moment of incandescence, when the Ceausescu dictatorship came to an end. "Freedom" was the word of the day, and Adrian Sobaru, who was in his 20s at the time -- "just a child," as he says now -- took to the streets to be part of the revolution and the dawning of a new era. But, as it turned out, the revolution wasn't what he had imagined it to be. Instead, it was a time of gunshots, sirens and ambulances, a time of turmoil, when there was no plan, no direction and no logic, and a time of chaos and fragmentation, when nothing seemed to work. To Sobaru, it seemed like a play that had turned out badly. There were a few good moments, but eventually he went home disappointed.

Walking on Tiptoe

At the time, Sobaru worked as an electrician for a company that made lathes. After the fall of the Ceausescu regime, a television crew came to the factory, and Sobaru grasped the opportunity to make his next dream come true: to work in television. He met and married Madalina, a woman with laughing eyes, and then came Calin, the boy who repeatedly suffered from life-threatening illnesses and who constantly had to be saved. He was a boy who refused to speak and liked to walk on tiptoe.

A strict father, Sobaru forced his son to walk normally, on the soles of his feet. He knew that it was necessary. Calin, the awkward child, became the center of the family, a boy who loved his sister so much that he posed a danger to her at first. He learned to speak and tolerate closeness, but he also needed costly medications and therapy. The six-person family lives on 3,000 lei (about €740 or $1,050) a month, says Sobaru. The costs associated with Calin's condition would eat up half of the family's monthly budget by themselves, but that is simply not possible.

Sobaru has grown accustomed to buying the family's clothing in a second-hand store, which is humiliating but bearable. Until last year, Sobaru knew that for his family, as for so many other families he knows, the money was just enough to scrape by. But then there were more cutbacks.

The austerity measures started coming in rapid succession. "And with each new measure that they announced, they had smiles on their faces," Sobaru recalls. "Those smiles started to irritate me."

There were protests last year against a government that finds it fair to pass on the burden to those at the bottom, those who have little enough as it is. But Sobaru had the impression that many of the protesters were not taking the issue seriously enough, at least not as seriously as he took it.

A Neoliberal Laboratory"It's difficult," says Marius Petcu, a union leader whose job includes handling protests. "It's difficult in Romania. The people should protest because they believe there is something to protest about, not because a union leader tells them to protest."

There were not enough people on the streets last year, says Petcu. He is convinced that the Romanians should have shown greater dissatisfaction, without the violence that has occurred in Greece, but with more passion. What Romania lacks, he says, is "solidarity."

On a gray day in early spring, Petcu, the head of the country's largest federation of trade unions, is sitting in his Bucharest office wearing a conservative suit. The furnishings include a traditional carved wall cabinet and a television set with muted sound which is showing a Nutella commercial. Petcu believes that Sobaru's one-man protest act is an expression of a political development that could go horribly awry. Romania, he says, is becoming a laboratory of deregulation, a "source of inspiration" for neoliberals in Europe, for people eager to test the limits of how many more rights can be given to companies and how many can be taken away from workers.

Credibility Problem

The government's next project is called "flexibilization." In an internal report in May 2010, the IMF criticized the "inflexibility" of the Romanian labor market, "as compared with others in the region." In a declaration of intent, the government stated that it planned to create new conditions to achieve "flexibilization of working hours" and "lower hiring and firing costs through more flexible employment contracts." The government also outlined its goal of creating "greater wage flexibility" -- in other words, more short-term work contracts and lower pay. And this is precisely what it is doing today.

Petcu says that the government has no ideas other than cutbacks and flexibilization. Where are the real investments, he asks? What about urgently needed infrastructure projects? How is the government addressing demand, or consumption?

He isn't alone. Similar views are coming from the International Labor Organization (ILO) and from economic experts in the United States, Germany and Romania. They argue that the extreme austerity programs impede consumption and are not conducive to overcoming the crisis. But it is difficult to find a sympathetic ear for such opinions among the influential in Romania.

"We have many adversaries," says Petcu. "They accuse us of not being credible." As it happens, it is a justifiable criticism. Credibility is currently Petcu's biggest problem, given that he has been remanded in custody since the end of April on charges of having accepted €40,000 from a developer. The prosecution calls it bribery, while Petcu insists that the money was repayment for a loan. Either way, the affair doesn't exactly boost his credibility.

Months of Bad News

It's still cold in Bucharest, the spring doesn't seem to have arrived yet. And the news for Romania in the first months of 2011 hasn't been good so far.

Romania's budget deficit in 2010 was 200 million lei, or about twice as high as in 2008. The IMF has approved a large, new loan package. The organization anticipates 1.5 percent growth for 2011 and notes that the recession has just about been overcome in Romania. But the crisis has not, says the country's president.

Meanwhile, two PNL mayors and a senior official with the tax authority are on trial for corruption charges. A PDL labor minister was forced to resign after it was found that his family had profited enormously from EU subsidy funds. A former foreign minister who is now a member of the European Parliament for the Socialists, and who is suspected of corruption, was ejected from the Socialist parliamentary group in Strasbourg.

Other statistics are no more heartening. Six of the 20 poorest regions in Europe are in Romania. The shadow economy is responsible for an estimated 25 percent of the gross domestic product. In the first four months of this year, Romania had the highest inflation in the EU.

Lost His Sense of Smell

As well as his limp, Adrian Sobaru still has to do exercises to learn how to use his hand again. He has a titanium plate in his skull and has lost his sense of smell. His sense of taste isn't as good as it was and his close-range vision has also been affected. "I was lucky," he says -- he could have died or, "even worse," been paralyzed.

He is back at work at the television station, but he is no longer allowed to work in the parliament building. His life has changed dramatically, in peculiar ways. Everyone can watch his jump on the Internet. Some people call him a hero and invite him to protests. He shouted the word "Freedom!" before jumping, prompting an Internet magazine to award him a certificate of freedom. What does freedom mean to him? "I don't know what it is," he says.

For many Romanians, freedom means emigrating. That was the opinion of Sobaru's brother, who moved to Canada with his wife when he realized that their salaries were not enough to make ends meet at home in Romania. Sobaru says that he couldn't imagine emigrating, at least not until now.

His country has no money, but it also lacks ideas on how to distribute the burden fairly. What is missing, he feels, are goals and plans. The government is constantly changing, but Sobaru has the impression that nothing is improving, and sometimes he thinks that it doesn't matter who is running the country. He jumped from a balcony, an act that others have chosen to interpret as they see fit.

He talks about his children constantly. About Calin, whose subsidies for treatments have been slashed, making learning more difficult for him and dashing his hopes for the future. And about Alexia, who will one day be paying off Romania's debts with the IMF and other lenders.

Alexia is almost eight and is learning how to play chess and the violin. The parents want Calin to receive IT training so that he can be as self-sufficient as possible in the future. He has taught himself a few words of English on the computer, as evidenced by his constant repetition of the phrase "I want to go to Germany." Somehow he has hit upon the idea that everything is better in Germany.

'This Sort of Thing Happens Everywhere'

Outside, on a boulevard in the northern part of the city that leads to the airport, a man is sitting in a modern office building, with secretaries and aides. A model airplane from his own airline stands on his desk. He returned from Germany some time ago. One of Romania's richest men, he claims he doesn't even know how much he is worth. "I wouldn't know that unless I had sold everything," says Ion Tiriac, who has businesses in many industries, including aviation, travel, insurance and automobile leasing. Today the 72-year-old's beard is grayer and he looks thinner than in the days when he worked as tennis star Boris Becker's manager.

His German is rusty and has given way to a quaint version of English. Although his business ventures take him around the world on business, he still feels at home in Romania, a country that he says "was the superstar in Europe" for a time, with 7 to 9 percent growth -- until the crisis arrived. He too was affected by the crisis. "Three years ago, I was three times as rich as I am today," he says, but is quick to point out that he is in good shape. "I can eat three meals a day and afford the fuel for my plane, which for me is like the car I take to the office."

Tiriac, who now smokes slim, white cigarettes and keeps the tennis photos from his past on the wall behind him, knows "almost everyone" in politics and business, "because I'm old and I was an athlete," he says. He prefers to distance himself from politics. "Politicians are all the same. They argue and they fight with each other," he says. He doesn't seem to believe that the parliament holds any real power. "What exactly can a politician do to me?" he asks.

Tiriac says that he would expect the politicians "to really get the engine up and running again." But, he adds, it took politicians too long to react to the idea that the booming Romanian economy had crashed, so that the drastic measures, such as wage cuts, came too late. He would like to see lower ancillary wage costs, and he feels that the unions are too powerful. In his eyes, employment protection in its previous form had more than earned the adjective "socialist."

For the first hour of the interview, Tiriac is talkative and is even willing to chat about Boris Becker. He says he sees him occasionally, and that when Becker showed him his new baby, Tiriac told the former tennis star: "You have a beautiful wife, Boris. Let's hope the baby ends up looking like her, not you."

But the subject of Adrian Sobaru dampens his mood. He doesn't like the topic. "Lady," says Tiriac, "a guy jumps down into the parliament. Someone else gets run over by a car. Yet another kills himself because he's crazy, or for whatever reason. This sort of thing happens everywhere."

Sobaru Didn't Plan to Jump

Nothing particularly noteworthy happened on Dec. 22, the day before his jump, Sobaru says. But a lot was going on at the time. The news was forming a knot in his head, the news about government debt, even more government debt, yet another corrupt politician and even more money that was being taken away from those who needed it most, and then there was the smile on the face of the politicians.

It was nothing in particular, he says, just the feeling that things had become hopeless, "and that we are just numbers, that we keep on going like robots, and that we don't have the backbone to do anything about it." Those were his thoughts when he wrote his letter and got up and left the house at three in the morning without saying anything to his wife.

He wrote those sentences on his T-shirt, just in case his voice wouldn't be enough. He wanted to say something to the government and everyone else, and he did say something, up there on that balcony, but he has forgotten what it was. It was something about the future and children and bread, but he remembers that the last word was "freedom." And then, says Sobaru, there was nothing but adrenaline and his body shaking and loss of control. He knew that he had to rip open his shirt, but his fingers wouldn't cooperate.

He looked down, not at anyone in particular. His plan had been to shout his message and not to jump, but perhaps he realized, standing on that balcony, that the words were not enough or that his words weren't the right words. He doesn't remember how it all happened, doesn't remember the moment he threw himself into the air, or the moment he landed on a padded leather bench, which helped break his fall.

He does know that he survived, but he doesn't remember lying there in his own blood and saying, as he later found out, the word "freedom," over and over again.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

EurActiv: Kosovo boycott mars Poland's Eastern summit

The presidents of Serbia, Romania and Slovakia threatened to boycott a summit of Central and South-Eastern European countries, to be held in Warsaw over the two next days (27-28 May) with the presence of US President Barack Obama, over the participation on an equal footing of Kosovo's president.

The high point of the Warsaw summit hosted by Polish President Bronisław Komorowski is the participation of US President Barack Obama, who is currently touring Europe.

But the high-profile event, the 17th of its kind, is more than likely be remembered for the boycott threat by the heads of state of Serbia, Romania and Slovakia.

"The president of Serbia, Boris Tadić, will not take part in the summit of the countries of Central and South-Eastern Europe because Kosovo will not be presented asymmetrically," a statement on the president's official website says.

Such a move is in keeping with the decision of the Serbian government and UNSC Resolution 1244, and steps taken by the Serbian president have to be in line with those documents, the statement further reads.

The UNSC, adopted on 10 June 1999, placed the former Serbian republic under an interim UN administration. It also authorised the UN to facilitate a political process to determine the future of Kosovo. However, Kosovo declared unilaterally independence in 2008 (see 'Background').

Romania and Slovakia also informed the organisers of the Warsaw summit that they would not take part in an event in which senior officials from Kosovo had also been invited to participate, an adviser to the Polish president was quoted as saying.

Presidents Traian Basescu of Romania and Ivan Gasparovic of Slovakia have both called off their trips to Warsaw, their administrations announced yesterday (24 May).

Explaining the reasons behind the decision, the Polish media recalled that Romania and Slovakia are among five EU countries that have not recognised the unilaterally proclaimed independence of Kosovo. They could therefore not accept the fact that Kosovo's President Atifete Jahjaga had been invited to attend the summit on an equal footing.

Atifete Jahjaga, born in 1975, is the first female and non-partisan president of Kosovo. Until her election on 7 April, she was deputy director of the Kosovo police force, holding the rank of Major General, the highest held by a woman in South-Eastern Europe.

Jahjaga was elected following a scandal involving the two previous presidents, Fatmir Sejdiu and Behgjet Pacolli. The latter served only a few days.

The adviser to the Polish president said that his country understood Slovakia and Romania's decision, but noted that there was no reason why Warsaw should not invite a representative or the president of Kosovo to the summit.

Polish Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski pointed out that Poland had recognised Kosovo's independence, an explanation for the appropriateness of inviting “the country's leader” to participate in the summit.

From 1 July, Poland is assuming the rotating presidency of the EU.

Protocol adjustment?

But late in the evening, the Slovak news agency TASR published a communiqué announcing that President Gasparovic will attend the Warsaw summit.

According to government spokesperson Marek Trubac, the Polish authorities had agreed with the Slovak authorities that there would be no symbols, coat of arms, national flag or inscription 'Republic of Kosovo', and no joint declaration adopted featuring the signature of the interim president of Kosovo.

Apparently, such an arrangement could make it possible also for the presidents of Romania and Serbia to attend, although no new information was made available by the time of publication.

On other occasions when Kosovo has participated as a regional player together with Serbia, diplomatic tricks have been used, such as no flags being displayed, or the participants being called by their names and not by their titles.

According to Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza, Obama will announce the deployment of an F-16 fighter jet squadron to the Polish city of Lask during his visit to the country

Key conditions need to be in place before Romania’s judicial reform – UN expert


24 May 2011 –An independent United Nations human rights expert today called on the Romanian Government to ensure that key conditions are in place before proceeding with major judicial reforms slated for later this year.

Gabriela Knaul, the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, asked the Government to consider postponing the enactment of four new criminal and civil laws for at least a year, stressing the need for “cautious reflection” in such a complex process.

“A reform that truly aims to generate positive changes should foresee prior assessments, clear benchmarks and indicators of achievement and broad consultations with all parties involved,” she stated at the end of her six-day mission to Romania.

Ms. Knaul said several key conditions should be in place before the four new codes are adopted. They include ensuring adequate financial and human resources for the prosecution service and the courts to assume their new functions.

In addition, the general public needs to be informed on the legal changes that are to be introduced and the expected results on the ground, while judicial officials need training on the new reform and its implications.

The Special Rapporteur invited the Government to carry out a “mapping exercise” of the current needs of the judiciary – including in terms of infrastructure, personnel and budget – and the way they will be addressed through the reform. The hope is that by doing so, the implementation of the four new codes will help to build up a “solid and truly independent” judiciary in Romania, said Ms. Knaul.

“The reform of the judiciary has been a process of change that has accompanied Romanian efforts to flourish as a democracy,” she said.

“As it now stands, its major goal should be to guarantee a system of administration of justice that ensures independence, impartiality, integrity, equality and transparency, all prerequisites for the enjoyment of human rights by all in Romania.”

During her mission, Ms. Knaul visited Bucharest, Iasi, Cluj-Napoca and Pitescu, and held discussions with a wide range of representatives from government, civil society, academia and the judicial community.

She will present her report on the visit to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council in 2012.

Romanian lawmakers vote against cutting 9,500 police and other interior ministry officials

By The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania — Romanian lawmakers have rejected a government proposal to fire 9,500 police officers and other interior ministry employees.

Some 150 lawmakers have voted Tuesday for the proposal made by Interior Minister Traian Igas, 17 short of votes needed. Some lawmakers from the ruling coalition refused to vote or voted against the proposal. It was not immediately clear if the government could ask lawmakers to vote again at another parliamentary session.

Romania pledged to cut its public spending in 2011 to keep the budget deficit at 4.4 per cent of GDP.

In 2009, Romania took a two-year euro20 billion ($28 billion) loan from the IMF, the EU and the World Bank, as its economy shrank by 7.1 per cent. Romania imposed harsh austerity measures under the agreement.

NYT: Case of Romanian Realism: Regular Guy, With Wife and Girlfriend

May 24, 2011
Case of Romanian Realism: Regular Guy, With Wife and Girlfriend

Around 40, with a soft gut, rounded shoulders and graying hair, Paul (Mimi Branescu), the middle-class Romanian who appears in virtually every frame of Radu Muntean’s “Tuesday, After Christmas,” is probably 10 years past the peak of his handsomeness. But he still has some attractive qualities, among them a low-key sense of humor, a decent work ethic and an obliging, if sometimes brusque, demeanor.

He is, all in all, a fairly ordinary guy caught up in a drama that is equally banal and entirely of his own making. He lives in a nice apartment in Bucharest with his wife, Adriana (Mirela Oprisor), and their 9-year-old daughter, Mara. He is also having an affair with Raluca (Maria Popistasu), the young dentist treating Mara’s overbite.

Mr. Muntean, who wrote the screenplay with Alexandru Baciu and Razvan Radulescu, treats Raluca’s profession both as a mundane fact and as a sly, deadpan joke, a way of deflating, almost from the outset, whatever romantic and melodramatic associations cling to the subject of adultery. This is not to say that the film makes light of the potential and actual consequences of what Paul is doing — there is no shortage of strong, painful and complicated emotion on the screen and also some low-key, gimlet-eyed comedy — but rather that it refuses any hint of overstatement, embellishment or wishful thinking. The strength of “Tuesday, After Christmas,” Mr. Muntean’s fourth feature, lies in its rigorous, artful and humane fidelity to quotidian circumstance.

“Realism” and “minimalism” — the terms often used to describe the tough, stripped-down movies that have been coming out of Romania in the past decade — seem both obvious and inadequate when applied to Mr. Muntean’s work. Like his most recent films, “The Paper Will Be Blue” (2006) and “Boogie” (2008), “Tuesday, After Christmas” diagrams, with remorseless, sympathetic clarity, the behavior of a man who is at once willful and passive. Its formal economy is startling and subtle. The whole thing consists of a few dozen shots, with the camera moving only when it needs to. But nothing essential is missing, and the story is hardly simple. This is the realism of an M.R.I. scan or the X-rays of Mara’s mouth that Raluca shows to Paul and Adriana. The camera discloses truths that are ordinarily hidden from view and that, once revealed, are open to endless, agonizing interpretation.

“Tuesday, After Christmas” can feel at times like an uncomfortable intrusion into the intimacy of other people. Its opening scene records a moment of naked, postcoital languor, but our presence in the bedroom is in some ways less voyeuristic than what follows.

Watching a decade’s worth of trust and tenderness collapse, in real time, over coffee is more transgressive — you might say more pornographic — than witnessing a few minutes of erotic bliss. Mr. Branescu and Ms. Oprisor, actors of uncanny instinct and intuitive precision, are also a real-life couple, which may help to explain the easy, almost unconscious rapport that exists between Paul and Adriana, even as their relationship implodes.

But even scenes that might seem incidental are played out with meticulous attention to submerged emotional currents and telling ironies. Not much is left out, though nothing is exactly spelled out either, so as you follow Paul through his routines, you take the full measure of the man, his circumstances and the people around him. His affectionate exasperation with his parents, his dogged amiability during a chilly encounter with Raluca’s mother and his foolish, infuriating insistence on acting like a nice guy at his lowest moments — all of this adds up to a portrait that is unsparing and unflattering without ever quite being unkind.

And somehow “Tuesday, After Christmas” is brutally honest but not gratuitously cruel. It does not manipulate the audience into judgment, pity or prurient curiosity. It sticks to the facts and circumscribes its action within the space of a week or so, telling the middle portion of a much longer story.

Paul has been involved with Raluca for a few months when the movie begins, and when it reaches its quiet, devastating final shot, the day specified in the title still lies in the future. But we have already seen everything and have been so absorbed in the contemplation of human imperfection that it may take a second viewing to appreciate the flawlessness of this film.


Opens on Wednesday in Manhattan.

Directed by Radu Muntean; written by Alexandru Baciu, Razvan Radulescu and Mr. Muntean; director of photography, Tudor Lucaciu; edited by Alexandru Radu; set design by Sorin Dima; produced by Dragos Vilcu; released by Lorber Films. At Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street, west of Avenue of the Americas, South Village. In Romanian, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 39 minutes. This film is not rated.

WITH: Mimi Branescu (Paul Hanganu), Mirela Oprisor (Adriana Hanganu), Maria Popistasu (Raluca), Sasa Paul-Szel (Mara Hanganu), Dragos Bucur (Cristi), Victor Rebengiuc (Nucu), Dana Dembinski (Raluca’s mother), Silvia Nastase (Ica), Carmen Lopazan (Cosmina), Adrian Vancica (Mircea Dumbraveanu) and Ioana Blaj (Narcisa).

Romania Will Try and Limit Leu Moves on ‘Massive’ Inflows

The Romanian central bank will try and limit exchange-rate volatility as “probable massive foreign capital inflows’’ put pressure on the leu to appreciate, Governor Mugur Isarescu said.

Inflows of capital to Romania will force the bank to make difficult monetary-policy decisions and use “unorthodox measures’’ to prevent exchange-rate volatility, Isarescu said in a speech at a seminar in Bucharest today.

The leu has gained 3.6 percent against the euro this year, the second-best performer in central and eastern Europe after the Serbian dinar, Bloomberg data show. It weakened 0.16 percent to 4.1280 per euro as of 11:22 a.m. in Bucharest.

“It’s probable that we’ll enter a new era of massive capital inflows to Romania,” Isarescu said. “A worsening of the Greek crisis could limit them though. But higher capital inflows are inevitable. We’ll try to limit the exchange-rate volatility triggered by these inflows, we’ll try to discourage excessive volatility.’’

Romania’s current-account deficit narrowed 59 percent in the first quarter to 634 million euros ($890 million) as foreign direct investments into the Balkan country fell 22 percent to 379 million euros from 486 million euros in the same period of 2010.

Foreign direct investments in Romania peaked at 9.5 billion euros in 2008 and tumbled to 3.5 billion euros in 2009 and 2.6 billion euros in 2010.
‘Certain Cost’

There is a “certain cost” in fighting any appreciation of the currency if the amount of capital entering the Balkan nation increases, Isarescu said.

“Capital inflows can lead to exchange-rate appreciation,” he said. “We lived through an appreciation once, we bought 10 billion euros in 2006 and 2007 and we couldn’t stop the appreciation, which shows there are certain limits” to fighting the flow.

The Banca Nationala a Romaniei left the benchmark interest rate unchanged for a 12th consecutive month on May 3 and raised the inflation rate forecast for the end of the year to 5.1 percent from 3.6 percent.

The inflation rate stood at 8.3 percent in April, the European Union’s highest. The rate will remain above the central bank target range of 2 percent to 4 percent until next year, the bank said. The central bank is “reluctant” to use the leu as a tool to damp inflation, Isarescu said on May 5

To contact the reporters on this story: Andra Timu in Bucharest at atimu@bloomberg.net; Irina Savu in Bucharest at isavu@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James M. Gomez in Prague atjagomez@bloomberg.net

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Romanian writer Fanus Neagu, who wrote about village life, dies of cancer

By The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania — Romanian writer Fanus Neagu, who was known for his stories about villages on the River Danube and his football commentaries, has died. He was 79.

Bucharest's Elias Hospital said in a statement Neagu died early Tuesday after a long battle with cancer.

President Traian Basescu calls him "a symbol of a generation." Former President Ion Iliescu and fellow writers have sent their condolences.

Writer Augustin Buzura says Neagu was "a creator obsessed by the beauty of the Romanian language and of places that he described like no one else."

Neagu's novels were inspired by village life near the Danube where he grew up. He also was director of the National Theater from 1993 to 1996.

He will be buried in Bucharest on Thursday

Romanian ex-media magnate sent to trial for threats


BUCHAREST — The former owner of one of the main TV stations in Romania, Sorin Ovidiu Vantu, will face trial for demanding money with menaces from the station manager, prosecutors said on Monday.

Vantu, who owned until late April the Realitatea Media group, and one of his aides are accused of forcing Sebastian Ghita, manager of the TV Realitatea news channel, to give them 150,000 euros by using threats, Supreme Court prosecutors said in a statement.

Between March and April, the two suspects used "death threats against the victim and his family," the statement said.

"I buried people like you in the hills of Moldova," Vantu allegedly told Ghita, according to a recorded conversation between the two men published by Hotnews, one of the main news websites in Romania.

Ghita gave the recordings to Hotnews.

Vantu had chosen Ghita in October 2010 to become manager of TV Realitatea in exchange for a promised 75-million-euro investment in the next five years.

But the relationship between two men quickly soured over their opposing views on strategies for the media outlet.

Vantu, who is being tried in another case involving aiding a fugitive, denied all accusations and insisted the "case had been fabricated in the presidential laboratories".

Late April, Vantu sold his shares in his media empire to a Romanian-Israeli businessman, a few hours before being arrested in this case.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Romanian anti-graft raid targets top ministry official


BUCHAREST — An anti-graft raid in Romania on Monday targetted a top internal affairs ministry official and a customs checkpoint in Constanta, Romania's main Black Sea harbour, prosecutors and media said.

The internal affairs ministry's general secretary, Laurentiu Mironescu, confirmed to the Agerpres news agency that his house was searched.

The operation targets smuggling and tax evasion, judicial sources told Romanian news agencies.

"There is a raid going on at the checkpoint of Constanta South/Agigea. There are also searches carried out at houses," a spokeswoman for the anti-corruption prosecutors told AFP without elaborating.

Since January, Romania launched the biggest clean-up operation of its customs and border police in years.

Dozens of border officials were arrested in just a few weeks at crossings with Moldova, Ukraine and Serbia and indicted for receiving thousands of euros in bribes from cigarette smugglers.

Some 234 among them will face trial in the coming weeks and Romania's customs chief Radu Marginean has been sacked.

The Balkan nation had hoped to join the visa-free Schengen area in March 2011 but countries such as France and Germany blocked its entry, stressing that Bucharest must make more progress in the fight against corruption.

Romania still hopes to join the Schengen zone in 2011.

Romania Signs Five Road-Building Contracts Worth $982 Million

By Irina Savu - May 20, 2011

Romania signed five contracts valued at 693 million euros ($982 million) with construction companies to build motorways financed mainly by the European Union, Transport Minister Anca Boagiu said.

The ministry awarded two contracts worth about 291 million euros to Austria’s Alpine Bau GmbH and Italy’s Impregilo SpA (IPG), while three groups led by Romanian companies Spedition UMB and Romstrade and Italy’s Tirrena Scavi SpA received the other agreements, according to an e-mailed statement today.

“We managed to save more than 600 million euros through these contracts, compared with the initial project estimates,” Boagiu said in the statement.

To contact the reporter on this story: Irina Savu in Bucharest at isavu@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James M. Gomez at jagomez@bloomberg.net

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Plan to put down stray dogs causes howl in Romania

By Anca Teodorescu (AFP)

BUCHAREST — They cross the street at crosswalks, stroll through parks and occasionally take the bus. Stray dogs are part of daily life in Romania, where plans to put them down have triggered a howling debate.

Big or small, black, brown or spotted, some 40,000 homeless canines live in Bucharest alongside a human population of two million, according to authorities and animal rights groups.

Their numbers started proliferating in the 1980s when then communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu had some of Bucharest's oldest residential districts razed and replaced with apartment blocs, causing many owners to part with their pets.

Though unwanted puppies are still abandoned since sterilisation is not systematic, many are fed and even vaccinated by animal rights groups and dog lovers.

But the growing numbers roaming the streets led local authorities to take action between 2001 and 2007, when some 145,000 stray dogs -- called 'maidanezi' in Romanian -- were put to sleep. Angry animal rights groups cried "dog genocide" and a ban was imposed on euthanasia against healthy dogs.

Now, a draft law is under debate in parliament to contain the number of strays roaming Romania. It would allow local authorities to decide whether to put down adult dogs that have been rounded up into refuges and not claimed or adopted within 30 days, or whether to keep them in the shelters.

"The local authorities' foremost duty is to look after the people's integrity and health," Bucharest's regional authority Mihai Atanasoaei told AFP.

"Forty thousand stray dogs led to 13,000 people sustaining bites in 2010 and 11,000 in 2009," he added, while four or five deaths due to dog bites have been recorded since 2004.

The stray dog debate revived in January when a woman was bitten to death by several dogs as she tried to enter a warehouse they were guarding.

Atanasoaei said the draft law is "democratic" in that it gives local authorities the choice between killing the dogs or keeping them in shelters.

But in times of crisis like today, he conceded, municipalities have limited funds to maintain the upkeep of such dogs.

Animal rights groups have staged daily protests against the bill, arguing that sterilisation is a better solution.

"Authorities say euthanasia is the cheapest and fastest way to deal with stray dogs. But soon other dogs will occupy the place left vacant and this will go on forever," Kuki Barbuceanu of Vier Pfoten (Four Paws) animal group told AFP.

The issue has struck a chord outside Romania.

Former French movie star and animal rights activist Brigitte Bardot urged Romanian lawmakers to vote against this draft, saying that slaying dogs would not solve the problem.

The stray dogs have gotten bad press in some travel guides that warn visitors against "the risk of being attacked by packs of famished dogs."

Dominique Toujas, a French tourist who has visited Romania several times with his family, said this left him apprehensive ahead of his first trip.

"But on coming here we saw that they were well fed and not at all aggressive," he said. "Soon they were just a familiar presence and more than once we met stray dogs begging only to be stroked."

Animal defence group Vier Pfoten argues that stray dogs can be put to work, for example in therapy programmes for disabled people. Since 2004, the NGO has run a programme called "Dogs for People" that helps children's communication and mobility skills.

Non-governmental organisations plead for adoption -- even abroad -- and since 2007 one NGO, GIA, has arranged for the adoption of 1,500 strays in Romania, Germany, France and as far away as the United States.

"Things have started changing as we can see more and more 'maidanezi' being walked on a leash," GIA's Raluca Simion said.

One is Picou. Georgiana Pirosca, a 31-year-old administrative assistant, took pity on a stray puppy half-paralysed by winter cold and gave it shelter for a night. Thirteen years on, Picou is still living in her two-room apartment.

"He is part of the family," she said, before heading out on her daily round, like many Bucharest residents, to feed the stray dogs in her neigbourhood.

Prince Charles calls for protection of Transylvania heritage


BUCHAREST — Prince Charles called for the protection of Transylvania's cultural and natural heritage during an interview broadcast late Wednesday by Romanian national TV channel TVR.

"There is still much more to do in Transylvania and throughout Romania with its rich multi-ethnic heritage to ensure that these unique cultural and natural treasures are not lost", he said during a personal visit to the country.

"If these places do disappear, it would not only be a tragedy for the people of Transylvania, but a loss for the whole of humanity and a terrible indictment of a world that has truly lost its soul", he added.

An ardent protector of the region's Saxon villages for many years, he also praised the "intimate" link between their residents and the landscape "in the way they farm the land and build houses, tell their stories and conduct their seasonal activities".

Charles, who has visited Romania several times, is also involved in several organic agriculture projects in Transylvania, where he owns several properties.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Romania registers highest annual inflation rate in EU for 9 months consecutively

BUCHAREST, May 16 (Xinhua) -- Romanian annual inflation reached 8.4 percent in April, maintaining the highest rate of the 27 EU member states for the ninth month consecutively, showed the preliminary estimations released on Monday by Eurostat, the European Office for Statistics.

According to Eurostat, the average annual inflation rate in the EU rose to 3.2 percent from 3.1 percent in March, while in the euro area, the average was up at 2.8 percent from 2.7 percent.

Romania is followed by Estonia (5.4 percent) and Lithuania and Hungary (4.4 percent each), while the lowest annual rates were witnessed in Ireland (1.5 percent), the Czech Republic (1.6 percent) and Sweden (1.8 percent).

Romania also holds the first position in the EU in terms of overall average price increase in the last 12 months, with a 7.2 percent enhancement, followed by Greece (5 percent) and Estonia (4.3 percent).

The National Bank of Romania (BNR) revised upwards the inflation prognosis for 2011, from 3.6 percent to 5.1 percent, over the higher limit of the targeted variation interval of 3 percent, plus/minus one percentage point.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Romanian Prime Minister Wins Internal Ruling Party Elections

Romanian Prime Minister Emil Boc has won an internal election held by his ruling Democrat-Liberal Party, confirming support for his Cabinet.

Boc, 45, won with more than 60 percent of the vote, according to a preliminary count, Sulfina Barbu, the Liberal Democrat who oversaw the elections, said in a phone interview from Bucharest today.

The Democrat-Liberals, part of the ruling coalition and facing general elections next year, saw their public support cut in almost half in a year to 20 percent over measures taken to keep funds from the International Monetary Fund and the European Union flowing in 2009 and 2010, a poll conducted between May 11 and May 13 by the Bucharest-based polling company CURS showed.

Boc’s government, which survived five no-confidence votes in the past year, has embarked on a budget austerity program to reassure investors it will maintain fiscal discipline ahead of elections, after signing a new two-year precautionary agreement with the international lenders, worth 5 billion euros ($7 billion). It plans to narrow the budget deficit to 3 percent of gross-domestic product next year, from 6.5 percent in 2010.

“Romania will have difficulties meeting this pledge, without reforming the unprofitable state-owned enterprises,” IMF Mission Chief Jeffrey Franks said May 9.

The administration cut public wages 25 percent and raised the value-added tax 5 percentage points to 24 percent last year to narrow the budget shortfall, boosting inflation and prompting the central bank to halt its rate-cutting cycle aimed at shoring up the economy.

The Balkan nation’s economy is poised to recover from a two-year recession and grow as much as 1.5 percent this year, according to the IMF.

To contact the reporters on this story: Andra Timu in Bucharest at atimu@bloomberg.net; Irina Savu in Bucharest at atimu@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James M. Gomez at jagomez@bloomberg.net

Romania emerges from two-year recession with growth in first quarter of 2011

By Associated Press, Published: May 13

BUCHAREST, Romania — Officials say Romania’s economy expanded by 0.6 percent in the first quarter, meaning the country has officially emerged from a two-year recession as strong exports and industrial output offset weak domestic demand.

The National Statistics Institute in Bucharest published the figure Friday. It follows 0.1 percent growth in the fourth quarter of 2010. Recessions are technically over after two quarters of positive growth.

Gross domestic product was up 1.6 percent from a year earlier in the first quarter.

Romania, which took a two-year precautionary loan of €3.6 billion ($5.1 billion) from the International Monetary Fund and the European Union this year, is expected to see economic output grow 1.5 percent in 2011, according to government and IMF forecasts.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Romania recovers priceless ancient treasure


BUCHAREST — Romania has recovered more of a priceless ancient treasure, stolen years ago from the archaeological site of Sarmisegetusa Regia, the head of the national history museum said Wednesday.

A total of 232 artifacts, including a gold bracelet, two iron shields and gold and silver coins were bought back from a German collector, Ernest Tarnoveanu told a press conference.

The 933-gram (two pound) bracelet is the 13th such artefact recovered since 2005, Tarnoveanu said, stressing that 11 more bracelets, all dating from the 1st century BC, are still missing.

"These bracelets are the most spectacular Dacian artefacts handed down to us," Tarnoveanu said.

The Dacians, an Indo-European people conquered by the Romans in the 1st century AD, are the ancestors of the Romanians.

After the treasure of Pietroasele, which includes gold figurines weighing more than 19 kilos, "this is the most important find made on Romanian territory," Tarnoveanu said.

The 13 beautifully decorated golden spiral bracelets recovered so far were among 24 stolen between 1998 and 2001, when the Sarmisegetusa site in southwest Romania was plundered.

Elements of the hoard have been recovered from American, German and Swiss collectors who had bought them in good faith, prosecutor Augustin Lazar said.

Lazar said 28 Romanians have so far been indicted for plundering Sarmisegetusa, part of UNESCO's world heritage.

Thirteen of them received prison sentences of between seven and 12 years in December 2009.

Interpol and law enforcement authorities of Austria, Britain, Belgium, France, Germany, Serbia, Switzerland and the United States helped with the investigation, Lazar said.

Petrom Q1 net profit rises on oil price, cost cuts

BUCHAREST May 11 (Reuters) - Romania's top oil and gas company Petrom (SNPP.BX: Quote) posted a 4.6 percent rise in first-quarter net profit on Wednesday, due to higher oil prices and cost cuts.

Profit rose to 840 million lei ($275.1 million), above the average forecast in a Reuters poll of 832.8 million lei. Petrom, controlled by Austria's OMV (OMVV.VI: Quote), recorded a net profit of 803 million lei in January-March 2010.

"During the first quarter of 2011, we continued to benefit from the favorable crude price environment and the effects of previously implemented cost savings measures," Petrom CEO Mariana Gheorghe said in a statement.

Petrom said it expected the Romanian economy to crawl out of recession in 2011 and consumption to grow marginally.

The Urals crude price, the reference oil price for Romania, was 36 percent higher on the year in the first quarter, the firm said.

Shares were up 0.12 percent to 0.4160 lei by 0810 GMT, while the wider blue-chip BET index was flat.

The company, which has recently decided to expand into electricity production, said a gas-fired power plant and wind park will be operational in the second half of 2011, but they were not expected to bring a

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Romanian April Inflation Quickens to Fastest in Almost 3 Years

By Irina Savu - May 10, 2011

Romania’s inflation rate rose to the highest in almost three years in April, more than economists had forecast, driven by surging food and fuel prices and higher domestic electricity costs.

Inflation accelerated to 8.3 percent, the fastest since July 2008, from 8 percent in March, the Bucharest-based National Statistics Institute said today in an e-mailed statement. The median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of six economists was 8.2 percent. Prices increased a monthly 0.7 percent.

Policy makers from China to Brazil have been struggling to tame quickening inflation as the global economic recovery and conflict in the Middle East drives up energy and food prices. Romanian central bankers are trying to lower domestic prices boosted by a government increase in a value-added tax rate last year and global prices, while aiding an economic recovery.

“We expect inflation to drop dramatically to about 5.2 percent in July once the first-round effect of the VAT rate hike fades away entirely, and then move toward 5.0 percent by the end of the year,” Citigroup Inc. economists Ilker Domac and Gultekin Isiklar wrote in a note to clients before the release.

Food-price inflation accelerated to an annual 10.9 percent in April, compared with 9.9 percent in March, sparked by higher bread, potato, fruit and sugar prices, the institute said.

Non-food prices rose 7.7 percent, compared with 7.4 percent in the previous month, boosted by rising tobacco, fuel and electricity prices. Price growth for services slowed to an annual 4.8 percent, compared with 5.7 percent in March, as a stronger currency lowered rent and telephone prices.

“Food and commodity prices, along with the possibility of administrative price adjustments, remain the main uncertainties on the inflation front,” Isiklar and Domac said.

Romania’s trade deficit narrowed in March to 806 million euros ($1.1 billion) from 929 million euros a year ago on surging exports boosted by demand from western Europe, the statistics institute said in a separate statement today. The gap was a revised 407.6 million euros in February.

To contact the reporter on this story: Irina Savu in Bucharest at isavu@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James M. Gomez at jagomez@bloomberg.net