Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Romania and Bulgaria immigration: 'No idea' on numbers

BBC News

Ministers say keeping the controls in place would be against the law

Ministers do not know how many Romanians and Bulgarians will come to the UK when restrictions are relaxed, the communities secretary has said.

Eric Pickles said he has no confidence in figures, published on his department's own website, predicting about 13,000 will arrive.

The government could only monitor "pull factors" attracting migrants, he said.

Romanians and Bulgarian have faced restrictions on coming to the UK to work since the countries joined the EU.

Speaking at a Parliamentary Press Gallery lunch in Westminster, Mr Pickles said: "I know it's a bloody mistake to tell the truth but... the truth is nobody really knows.

"There is no secret calculation that we are trying to hide from the world” Eric Pickles Communities secretary

"So all the government can do is to just be careful about the pull factors that might range from the health service, through housing, through benefits within the law to try and ensure there isn't an extra attraction to come here.

"Already there are people working in Lincolnshire and our crops being brought in (by people) that come from Romania and Bulgaria and the truth is very few carrots would be picked without that help that is there."Migration prediction

"So there is no secret formula that is too horrible to bring out, there is no secret calculation that we are trying to hide from the world because, indeed the calculation has been on my website undisturbed for the best part of two years and there are other documents that we will be publishing in due course."

The Home Office has said it has not produced forecasts and Downing Street has insisted it would not publish predictions on the number of people who could move to the UK when rules on the movement of people from the EU member states are relaxed at the end of 2013.

The formula on the website suggests 4,613 Bulgarians and 8,155 Romanians would head to the UK.

The countries joined the European Union in 2007 but under "transitional arrangements" their workers were prevented from travelling to the UK.

Migration Watch UK, which campaigns for tougher controls on immigration, estimates 250,000 Romanians and Bulgarians will move to the UK in the first five years after access restrictions are lifted.

Romania Needs Euro-Entry Date ‘Toward’ 2020, Prime Minister Says

By Andra Timu & Irina Savu - Mar 19, 2013

Romania, the European Union’s second-poorest member, needs to target euro adoption “toward” 2020, Prime Minister Victor Ponta said.

Joining the currency area in 2015 is “out of the question” as the country doesn’t yet meet the criteria, Ponta said in an interview broadcast today by the Bucharest-based Adevarul newspaperon its website. Romania will decide on a new euro-adoption target date in the first half of this year, central bank Governor Mugur Isarescu said Feb. 7.

“We must be very careful,” Ponta said. “Beyond meeting the convergence criteria, we have to see what’s the average income, what’s citizens’ purchasing power and what are the prices. Otherwise it would be a disaster as euro members are already weakened.”

Europe’s sovereign-debt crisis prompted former communist EU members including Poland,Hungary and the Czech Republic to postpone plans to join the currency union as they work toward meeting requirements on the budget, inflation, public debt and interest rates.

Romania narrowed its budget deficit to within the EU limit of 3 percent of gross domestic product last year and may exit the trading bloc’s excessive-deficit procedure, Minister Delegate for Budget Liviu Voinea said on March 14. The country has the fourth-lowest public debt in the 27-nation EU at 38 percent of GDP. Its inflation rate declined to 5.7 percent in February.

The leu weakened 0.1 percent to 4.4131 per euro at 4:54 p.m. in Bucharest.

To contact the reporters on this story: Andra Timu in Bucharest at; Irina Savu in Bucharest at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at; James M. Gomez at

Monday, March 18, 2013

NYRblog : A Rivalry With God

Ian Buruma

The Romanian director Cristian Mungiu’s latest movie is about a young woman who is tortured to death with the highest intentions. That, at any rate, is one way to describe the story of Beyond the Hills, which is loosely based on an event that took place at an Orthodox monastery in Moldavia in 2005. The woman’s death was the result of a ritual exorcism, not uncommon in Romania, meant to save her soul from the devil.

In lesser hands than Mungiu’s, the film might have become a simple indictment of religious orthodoxy, a criminal priest, and a bunch of nuns deluded by medieval bigotry in the remote countryside. But that would have been a rather obvious approach. The story told by Mungiu, one of the best contemporary directors in Europe, is more complicated, and interesting.

Like his celebrated and equally harrowing earlier movie, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007), about an illegal abortion in the last years of Ceauşescu’s Romania,Beyond the Hills revolves around the intense relationship between two troubled young women. Voichita (Cosmina Stratan) and Alina (Cristina Flutur) grew up together in an orphanage. Their parents had abandoned them or were dead.

Voichita tries to find sollace in religious faith at a monastery, in the arms of God and the surrogate family of nuns and a charismatic priest. Alina leaves for Germany, where she works as a waitress, but finds that she cannot live without her friend. Her love for Voichita is total, in body and spirit. She is dependent on her. Without her, life is unbearable. Voichita loves her friend too, but she loves God even more, or so she thinks, and the two forms of love are not compatible.

If the danger of dependence—on a lover, on God—is one theme of the movie, the danger of indifference is another. Alina collapses in a fit of hysteria, a condition that will come and go in ever more violent forms as the story unfolds. The treatment she receives at a hospital is frigidly professional: she is tied to a bed and pumped full of drugs to subdue her fits of frenzy. A doctor, aware of the limitations of this type of treatment, advises her to stay with her friend for a while. The scriptures, he believes, might do her good in ways that drugs never can. He is the only bridge between the two worlds of the story—the secular and the religious, the hospital and the monastery.

In fact, this is no solution at all. The priest and the nuns, secure in their isolation from the sinful society around them, see Alina as a threat, an unbeliever in their midst, a potential sower of doubts. For Alina, the rivalry with God for the affections of her only friend, who refuses any physical intimacy with her, quickly becomes acute. Despite her unbelief, Alina is so desperate for the love of Voichita that she even tries to enlist religious magic. An icon, hidden inside the chapel, is supposed to have great powers—like the priest himself, who the nuns believe can heal illnesses through the force of his prayers.

Caught trying to find the secret icon in the chapel, Alina sets off a kind of hysteria at the monastery that echoes her own: the nuns scream and wail, the priest threatens all kinds of punishments. Alina must leave. Her presence is intolerable. Faced with losing Voichita, Alina becomes hysterical once more and unleashes all her fury on the church, on the icon, on the priest and the nuns.

Voichita manages to convince the priest to let her friend stay a bit longer: Alina has nowhere else to go. And the nuns, who are compassionate people, agree. But their compassion—and this is the brilliance of Mungiu’s concept—is precisely what leads to disaster. They are convinced that Voichita is a victim of Satan. They believe their greatest obligation is to do everything in their power to release Voichita’s soul from the clutches of the devil.

And so, in another echo of the earlier scenes in the hospital, Alina, frothing and flailing in a violent fit, is strapped to a wooden plank, and kept that way for days and nights as the priest struggles with the devil in endless rituals of exorcism. At night she is locked up in a freezing cell. Her screams are interpreted as the screams of Satan. The nuns are convinced that she is grateful for their ministrations. She knows that they are doing her a great kindness in saving her soul. Finally, cold, exhausted, famished, broken, Alina looks up at her friend for one last time, smiles faintly, and dies.

The agents of the secular outside world, usually kept at bay, now intrude into the peace of the monastery. A woman doctor is furious at the nuns for having let this happen. The police arrive to investigate what seems like a case of murder. The priest and his senior nuns, including, at her own request, the shattered Voichita, are driven away in a police van to face the consequences of their acts in a provincial court.

What makes the story tragic, instead of merely sad and sordid, is the way Mungiu shows the two realities, the secular and the Orthodox, colliding. The filmmaker does not sit in judgment of his characters. The man and women responsible for Alina’s death are not bad people. Indeed, the behavior of the woman doctor and the cops, who seem to regard Alina as just another corpse, or case, is much more callous. Their attitude is fed not by malice, but by indifference. This is a theme of Mungiu’s earlier films, too: the cold lack of concern for the fate of others made worse by the petty officiousness of communist society under Ceauşescu. Everyone looks out for him or herself; nobody cares, not the abortionist in 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, who demands sexual favors for his illegal deed, not the corrupt officials, not the parents who abandon their children, not the nurses and doctors, not even the waiters in restaurants who would much rather say that items on the menu are unavailable than serve a decent meal.

The convent is indifferent in another way. Almost entirely sealed off from mainstream society, it is a closed community wrapped up in itself. Devotion to God, and to life in its narrow confines, trumps all other human needs, such as the love of one person for another. This leads to an extreme kind of obtuseness. The priest and the nuns are genuinely baffled by accusations that they did anything wrong. How can it be wrong to save a young woman’s soul? What can be wrong about praying and fighting the devil? Yes, she had to be strapped to a wooden bed, for her own good, to stop her from harming herself and others, while Satan had her in his power.

But at least, in their eyes, they had cared for Alina. Was it any better for her to be strapped to her hospital bed and drugged into a stupor?

There is a kind of logic to this question, even if religious mania is hardly a solution. Mungiu is careful to show the attractions of monastic retreat from an often ugly and pitiless world. The monastery is extremely simple, so simple and unadorned that the local bishop refuses to consecrate the chapel until it is properly painted and decorated; the bishop, too, is really part of the secular world. But the monastery has a stark, quiet beauty, as does the countryside in which it is set.

The last scene of the movie shows us the inside of the police van, stalling at a traffic light. The priest reassures the anxious nuns that they have nothing to fear, as God is with them. One of the cops amuses his colleague with a lurid story of a recent murder case. Outside it is raining, and a giant drill makes a horrible racket breaking up the road. Honking cars pass by concrete apartment buildings. A heavy truck pulls up at the light and splashes the windscreen with a filthy black smear of muddy rainwater.

Beyond the Hills, a film directed by Cristian Munghiu, is showing at New York’s Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and IFC Center through March 24.

The Economist: Romanian cinema

The pearls of a new generation
Mar 14th 2013 by L.C. | BUCHAREST

DURING Romania’s communist regime under Nicolae Ceausescu, the Romanian film industry was nationalised and film-makers were subsidised to create socialist films that portrayed a happy working-class society. Romania's citizens lived in a world where state propaganda praised a fake economic prosperity while people were forced to queue for hours to buy milk or meat. But the film industry peddled communist ideology. Since the bloody revolution in 1989 a new generation of directors has turned its lens on the Ceausescu era, making films that show how people really lived under the regime and the post-communist traumas that followed after democracy was installed.

This new wave of Romanian cinema has been gaining international recognition over the past decade for its authenticity and original style. Many of the first films portray daily life under communism, such as Cristian Mungiu’s “4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days”. Other films, such as Corneliu Porumboiu’s “12:08 East of Bucharest” or Catalin Mitulescu’s “How I Celebrated the End of the World” dramatise the 1989 revolution, when the regime collapsed and Ceausescu and his wife were executed. More recently, directors are focusing on Romanian society in transition, such as in “Child’s Pose”, directed by Calin Peter Netzer, which was awarded the Golden Bear for best film at last month’s Berlin International Film Festival.

In quasi-documentary style, “Child’s Pose” portrays a wealthy and domineering mother (played by the powerful actress Luminita Gheorghiu, pictured above) in her struggle to cover up her son’s responsibility for an accident that would send him to jail. This psychological drama offers an insight into Romania’s new bourgeoisie as corruption spreads through the country’s democratic institutions. Under communism, political affiliation bought influence but in the new democracy, money wields power. The film also addresses a universal theme—the relationship between children and their parents.

“This is a suffocating movie”, says Mr Netzer, “most of the frames are tight and you are a spectator who is taking part in the action. Unlike the majority of Romanian movies, you don’t watch it like you would admire a painting, but you get close to the characters, their actions and moods.” The intense realism and black humour in this film are themes found across the new wave.

Bogdan Dumitrache (pictured below), a 35-year-old actor who plays the role of the son, experienced both communism during his childhood and also the freedom and the economic development that followed after the revolution. “I think my generation has mixed feelings towards communism”, he says. “On one hand, we feel nostalgic because those were the days of our childhood, but on the other hand, we feel repulsion because we know our parents’ stories. We were too young to actually live those times but we feel the need to pass on the stories that affected our close ones.”

However, passing on these stories is proving difficult due to funding problems. Currently, film-makers can apply for 50% of production costs as a grant which must be repaid within 10 years from the National Center of Cinematography (CNC). Grants should be awarded in a twice-yearly competition, in accordance with Romania’s law of cinematography, but this is not always the case. Funding more often comes from the European Union or foreign investors.

The CNC, which has an annual budget of up to €7m ($9m), has been criticised by some in the Romanian film industry for its corruption, lack of transparency and bureaucratic obstacles. It is accused of favouring and financing particular directors—such as Sergiu Nicolaescu, a communist-era favourite—even though their films turned out to be failures in terms of audience and international recognition. Nicolaescu’s last film before he died earlier this year, “The Last Corrupted Man of Romania”, was a critical and financial flop. Eugen Serbanescu, the head of the CNC, told The Economist that the institution is not responsible for the outcome of the movies because the finance is strictly offered based on the scenarios submitted. Another obstacle to the growth of Romania’s cinema industry is that the country has the fewest cinemas in Europe. This lack of infrastructure prevents wide distribution and determines modest commercial profits at the box office.

Ada Solomon, the producer of “Child’s Pose”, which had a €800,000 budget, believes that politicians should pay more attention to the film industry because it has become an ambassador for the country. Ms Solomon believes there are multiple solutions for the problems the system is currently facing: she calls for a budgetary fund that Romanian directors could access, and a state aid scheme for potential investors in the industry. But these cannot be implemented without political will. The country’s cinema infrastructure should also be addressed, she says.

Alin Tasciyan, vice-president of the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI), claims that international recognition of the Romanian cinema is not a temporary trend because the industry is built on a strong culture by film-makers who have resilient personalities. “I believe this is just the beginning, only the revolt not the revolution itself, and it is only a matter of time and money for the Romanian cinema to flourish and expose all its colours.

However, if the political class will not turn its face to the Romanian cinema and establish solutions for the most urgent problems the industry faces, the country‘s talent might migrate towards the developed film industries in the Western world. This would be a great loss, not just for Romania’s cultural legacy but also for this new wave of directors, who seem to feel happiest at home rather than anywhere else.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Painful Lessons from Romania’s Decade-Old Adoption Ban

By Meghan Collins Sullivan March 15, 2013

Four-year-old Alina stood in her diaper, her bright eyes looking past the end of her bottle at the American woman who intended to adopt her from a maternity hospital in rural Romania.

This is how Mary, who planned on raising Alina, recounts one of her earliest meetings with the girl. With the adoption paperwork complete, a signature from Romania’s prime minister was all that stood between Alina’s placement in a stable American home and a childhood in Romania without a family. It never happened.

In 2001, Romania placed a moratorium on international adoptions, and officially banned the practice four years later, citing widespread corruption in adoption practices across borders. Alina, now 16, is one of a thousand “pipeline kids” left in limbo when Romania banned international adoption.

A similar fate may now await hundreds of orphans in Russia, which ended adoptions to American parents on Jan. 1. Some 1,000 Russian adoption cases are said to be in the pipeline — meaning that paperwork has been completed and, in most cases, prospective parents have met with their intended adoptees as many as three times.

Russia’s decision to end American adoptions is seen as a political response to the U.S.’s Magnitsky Act, an anticorruption law aimed at human rights abuses in Russia. But the adoption of Russian children by Americans has been a contentious issue for years.
Tempers flared in 2010 when an American woman put her adopted seven-year-old son on a flight back to Russia, where he now lives, with a letter citing “severe psychopathic issues.” And in February, a three-year old Russian boy died two months after his adoption to a Texas couple, not long after another toddler from the same orphanage died after being left in a car by his American adoptive father. (The former death was ruled accidental, and the father was acquitted of involuntary manslaughter for the latter.)

While Russian officials have said that some of the pipeline cases may be completed, it remains unclear whether these children will make it to the U.S. The situation is hauntingly familiar for many of the families that intended to adopt children from Romania a decade ago.

“What I feel for these families right now and for these children, they are going to have a lot of unresolved grief,” says Julie Murrell, who was in the process of adopting a two-year-old girl, Cristina, when the Romanian ban went into effect. “After about a year we moved on. A lot of the families haven’t really been able to move on.”

After Romania blocked their adoption, Murrell, 52, and her husband, 48, sent a private investigator to the foster home where Cristina had been living. They learned that several potential Romanian adoptive families had visited and that the foster mother chose one for the little girl. Julie and her husband have not heard from Cristina since.

“We thought the country might reopen,” Murrell says. “Now we realize we were the luckiest because we had closure.”

Murrell and her husband went on to adopt twin girls from Russia five years ago. But the wound from their Romanian experience remains. Their son, in elementary school at the time, had told all of his friends he was getting a sister. Murrell’s mother keeps a photo of Cristina with those of her other grandchildren.

Before giving up the fight for Cristina, now 13, Murrell joined with other pipeline parents in an effort to pressure the Romanian government to allow pending adoption cases to go through. Members of the group traveled to Romania to petition officials. Murrell wrote a letter to President Traian Basescu, and met with then Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase when he came to Washington, D.C.

“He did say very positive things and I remember leaving there thinking this is a really positive thing,” Murrell says. “When you are in the situation you hear what you want to hear. But when I look back at it I think, you know, he just wanted us to shut up.”

For many pipeline families, the most difficult moment was deciding whether or not to stay in contact with the Romanian children they had hoped to adopt. More than 10 years later, many of the cases remain unresolved.

Another American woman, Ann, and her husband had already adopted two brothers and had completed the paperwork for two girls from the same orphanage in Romania when the ban went into effect. Ann spoke on the condition of anonymity out of concern for the welfare of the girls.

Patricia and Gabriela are now 9 and 10. Ann used to visit them twice a year, but eventually stopped going because she was concerned about how it would affect the girls as they grew older. It has been four years since she last saw them.

“They knew that someone was going to adopt them,” Ann says. “It was a little devastating – that’s why I stopped visiting them. I felt it was unfair emotionally for them. They had pictures of me. … I am not sure what they have been told. I kind of don’t want to know.”

Though the girls have not been adopted, Ann says she believes they are being well taken care of in a private, Christian orphanage that houses about 35 children. Because of their age and the fact that they are of Roma descent, it’s unlikely they will be adopted domestically in Romania. “They will never have family,” Ann says.

For children like Patricia and Gabriela, the adoption ban may have serious consequences as they enter adulthood.

Like other American prospective parents, Rita filed paperwork and paid thousands of dollars in fees in her effort to adopt one-year-old Delia, whom Rita’s aunt and uncle had come to know during their time in the Peace Corps. Rita spoke on the condition of anonymity because her family continues to visit Delia, now 12, and is still looking for a way to get her to the U.S.

“We were told she was Roma and that she probably would not be adopted,” Rita says. “I know that she’s never going to have a family. She’s going to turn 18 and she’s going to be turned out on the street, and I’m not going to let that happen.”

Romania has no formal national assistance program for orphans after they leave state institutions. Most must leave at age 18, when they become legal adults. Few of the country’s 75,000 orphans know how to manage money, find an apartment, prepare food or search for a job. Many end up homeless and turn to crime, like prostitution, when they age out.

The same challenges face many of the tens of thousands of Russian orphans lingering in state institutions. U.S. families adopted nearly 1,000 Russian orphans in 2011.

After her adoption fell through, bright-eyed Alina lived in a series of foster homes before landing in a state-run orphanage. Mary, the American who failed to adopt Alina but became her godmother a decade ago, worries about what will happen when she turns 18 and is still trying to get her to the U.S.

“There are always bad people lurking in the shadows,” Mary says a teacher in the orphanage’s small town told her, “observing, and waiting for their opportunity. Children like [Alina] often become prostitutes.”

She says Alina looks forward to turning 18 because she’ll be “free.”

“She doesn’t understand what that even means,” she says. “This is what wakes me up in the middle of the night.

The names of some children and parents were changed in this article.

Read more:

Thursday, March 14, 2013

R Is for Romania, Roma and Racism in Europe's Migration Debate

By Tim Judah Mar 13, 2013

Read the popular press in the U.K. and Germany over the past months, and you would hold the following truths to be self-evident:

That Romanians are toothless scroungers who want to steal your job, or failing that, they will steal from your country's social security system;
That there is a flood of as many as 29 million of these people who are about to overwhelm Western Europe (if you bundle in the equally hapless and evil Bulgarians);

And that unless politicians act now, the U.K. and other countries face, according to the Daily Mail newspaper, a “potentially huge political and social disaster.”

None of this has much to do with reality. The recession can explain some of the hysteria, but there is also a strong whiff of anti-Roma racism in much of the debate -- Romania is home to Europe's largest Roma population, still known to some as Gypsies.

This week, I took a busy low-cost flight from Bucharest to Paris, and none of the Romanian passengers looked anything like the foul-smelling hordes that Europe's media are making them out to be. They were a normal-looking mix of students; beefy or wiry men who would not seem out of place on building sites; tourists; men with ties and briefcases; and some smartly dressed women.

What is going on? The gist of the argument from some media and politicians in the U.K. and Germany is that next year the remaining labor restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians working in fellow European Union countries will be lifted, at which point the floodgates will open.

These two Balkan nations joined the EU in 2007. Their people already have the right to work in the rest of the EU, subject to restrictions that vary by country. In the U.K., for example, a carpenter must officially be self-employed rather than an employee. Ending this rule is likely to make a minimal difference in terms of attracting Romanians to work in the U.K. Likewise, the media make out that people will move west only to abuse social-security benefits, although in reality there is little evidence of this to support such claims.

Germany is also doing what it can to resist further integration of Romanians and Bulgarians into the EU. Neither country is part of the passport-free zone of 26 countries known as the Schengen Area, and they want to join. Romanians don't need a visa to go to other EU countries, but so long as they aren’t in Schengen they still have to show their passports and pass through immigration controls at the Schengen Area border. On March 7, facing a German veto on them being admitted to the zone, Romania and Bulgaria decided not to force a vote. The EU will return to it at the end of the year.

The two countries say they have done a huge amount to beef up their borders in readiness to become, in effect, the German and French frontier on joining Schengen. German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich says he fears that corruption could allow undesirables to bribe their way to acquiring Romanian and Bulgarian Schengen visas.

It seems clear that Romanians and Bulgarians, of whom there are relatively few in the U.K., are being used by parts of the media in their unrelenting anti-EU campaign. In Germany, where their numbers are relatively modest, too, certain politicians are using the issue to look tough before the country’s election in September.

Next, nobody knows how many Romanians and Bulgarians are already abroad, and the figures are fluid anyway because many come and go. However, the number for Romanians is probably more than 2 million and could be as many as 3 million. Less than 1 million are believed to be in Spain and slightly more than 1 million in Italy. So, if anyone would be worried about them, it might be the Italians and the Spanish. Yet they are not. Romanians say that most of those who wanted to go abroad to work have already done so.

Of course, there are Romanian and Bulgarian migrants who can't find jobs in the countries that they go to, but they are a minority. As this analysis by the German Marshall Fund of the United States shows, 80 percent of those in Germany are employed, of which: “Twenty-two percent are highly skilled and 46 percent are skilled, pursuing exactly those professions that Germany so urgently needs. These migrants often fill jobs that Germans don’t want to do, such as seasonal work.” Not all of those who don’t have a job are on social security -- that figure includes students.

While Friedrich in Germany looks tough talking about abuses of freedom of movement by those “who only come to receive social welfare,” some of the serious press in Germany smells an election campaign. The Suddeutsche Zeitung adds: “Friedrich is merely stoking anti-immigrant sentiment, even as the German government is actively seeking to attract the best-educated people in the crisis countries to Germany.”

In Romania, the opprobrium being heaped on the country from aboard is grating. “We are used to it, but it does not take away the annoyance,” says Oana Popescu, the director of the Global Focus Center research group.

So why do these claims resonate, when the evidence for them points to only a small number of criminals and benefit cheats, which exist in any population? No one is complaining about the Romanians working as nurses in Germany, or as doctors in the U.K., or about Romanian “badante”, as women who care for the elderly in Italy are called. Much of the debate, and almost of all the pictures, focus on Roma migrants.

Poor and discriminated against at home, many Roma have upped sticks for greener pastures abroad, and the high visibility of some of them -- for example, begging on the Paris metro, or selling the Big Issue newspaper for the homeless in London -- inevitably attracts attention.

Mircea Geoana, a former Romanian foreign minister, says that, “in times of economic difficulties it is the old European syndrome. First it was the Jews, then the Roma and now the nations on the periphery.” The campaigns have also damaged his country’s reputation. “There has been a gradual and now accelerated degradation of the way we are perceived," he says.

A lot of EU money has been spent in Romania over the past 20 years to help integrate Roma into society better. “If a young Roma drops out of school at the age of 9, there is a 59 percent chance of him ending up in jail, but if he leaves at 13 that drops to 9 percent,” Geoana says. Still, he admits that “the strategy has been impeccable, but the results have been modest.”

There has always been a high level of antipathy toward Roma in Romania and it seems to be getting worse. The hostility toward Romanians in other parts of the EU makes some Romanians angry -- at the Roma. Vlad Radu, a supply-chain manager in a bottling plant, says that when he and his family went on holiday in Paris, they didn't want to speak Romanian on the metro because they didn't want to be associated with the Romanian Roma who seemed to get on at every stop to busk and beg.

At the same time, many Romanians note with some satisfaction that the number of Roma in the country has plummeted in recent years, because they have gone abroad. Now, the Roma have become “a European problem,” says Radu. “You tell us to integrate them but we have failed, so you tell us how.”

(Tim Judah, the Europe correspondent for the World View blog, is a correspondent for the Economist and author of several books on the Balkans. Follow him on Twitter. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Romania possibly caught in antibiotic-containing turkey scandal

BUCHAREST, March 13 (Xinhua) -- Romania is possibly involved in a new food scandal after Germany withdrew from the market on Wednesday turkey breast with residues of antibiotics that would come from Romania.

The information came from European rapid alert system, Vice President of the National Sanitary Veterinary and Food Safety Authority (ANSVSA) Vladimir Manastireanu was quoted as saying by local media.

"My colleges are in the investigation and we will see results in 4-7 days," said the official, adding that investigators have gone to the unit involved and there is no information if the products have reached the market in Romania.

"Situation is under control," Manastireanu stressed, promising that "I'll tell you where the meat reach after completion of investigation."

He explained that it is a batch of meat with residues of antibiotics, which would be exported from Romania. The meat also arrived in Britain and Austria.

According to the European system of alert, the turkey breast contained traces of enrofloxacin, an antibiotic used to treat various diseases, including respiratory, salmonella, staphylococcus or hepatitis.

Sampling took place in Germany on Feb. 7 and the results came Wednesday.

Romania’s Oltchim May Be Split Up to Pay Debt, Prepare Sale

By Irina Savu - Mar 13, 2013 

Oltchim SA (OLT), Romania’s state-owned insolvent chemical company, may be split in two to pay off its debt and attract interest before a majority stake is sold to meet pledges under an international loan accord.

Oltchim’s viable assets may be transferred to a special- purpose vehicle and the remainder may be liquidated to help pay off part of debts totaling about 800 million euros ($1 billion) under a reorganization plan, legal administrator Gheorghe Piperea told reporters in Bucharest today.

“The company is now operational to ensure its survival and give us time to prepare its reorganization, which in turn is only meant to prepare its privatization,” Piperea said.

The Romanian government, which failed to sell Oltchim last year to politician Dan Diaconescu, should try to sell its majority in the company to a strategic investor from the chemical or petrochemical industry, Piperea said. The administration pledged to sell it part of a precautionary accord with the International Monetary Fund and the European Union to unburden the state budget.

The company’s reorganization plan will be completed after the creditors’ meeting in mid-April, Economy Minister Varujan Vosganian told reporters today at the joint conference with Oltchim’s legal administrators.

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

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James M. Gomez at

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Romania's new wave could dry up if it doesn't get home support

Romania's arthouse films have won respect worldwide, but their lack of popularity among domestic audiences spells danger
Any new wave in cinema is duty-bound to make surprise its mission, cocking a snook at tradition and shuffling conventions. The one that broke in 2005 got off to a good start: hailing from Romania, a filmic backwater compared to Russia and Poland. Kicking off with Cristi Puiu'sThe Death of Mr Lazarescu – the whispered hit of Cannes that year – this revolution had ready-made class: it was aesthetically rigorous; serious-minded yet buoyed by a mordant sense of humour; it scraped its truths from the dingy fabric of everyday life, often covered in the residue of 42 years of communism.

Corneliu Porumboiu, Cristian Mungiu and Radu Muntean all followed up in this vein in the second half of the noughties, with pure festival-bait that was still clocking up awards this year when the drama Child's Pose took the top prize at Berlin.

And yet it was a movement almost totally disconnected from its Romanian audience. Even given its purist arthouse allegiances, the box office figures were appalling. Aurora, Puiu's last film, grossed just $6,942 in Romania, the country's 96th most popular film in 2011. Only Mungiu's Palme d'Or winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days has breached the top 10 – making $274,611, as 2007's seventh most successful; with Florian Serban's prison drama, If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle struggling into the top 50 in 2010. Compared to other east European audiences, Romanians were definitely not interested in getting high on their own supply: domestic films had a paltry 2.5% share of the market in 2010.
Does a new wave exist if there's no one around to hear it crashing to shore? Festival audiences and international arthouse buffs certainly marvelled at the high quality of the Romanian new wave – AO Scott called it "the most exciting development in a European national cinema since Spain in the 1980s" in his exhaustive piece for the New York Times in 2008.

But it's easy to think that the lack of interest on the part of those whose lives were in closeup made the pressing questions posed by the films peter out in a vacuum. Shouldn't there be more sparks of recognition over The Death of Mr Lazarescu's sly digs at the healthcare system, or Porumboiu's droll debate in his fantastic 12:08 East of Bucharest (about whether the 1989 revolution actually happened, or the provocative sadism of the clergy in Mungiu's biting convent drama, Beyond the Hills(out in the UK this week)?

Perhaps these are questions more for the directors than for audiences, touching on their motivation for carrying on. The Romanian new wave has noticeably slowed down since its mid-noughties eruption, the lack of local acknowledgement might be one reason why; every artistic movement needs nourishment from the grassroots (Mungiu, in his recentinterview with Xan Brooks, pinpoints the lack of film theatres in the country as a crucial problem area).

Now it looks as if Romanian film-goers could be moving off in another direction. There was a small resurgence at the box office for local films last year – for more conventional commercial fare, such as Minte-mă Frumos (Sweet Little Lies), which followed on the heels of 2011's Bună! Ce Faci? (Hello! How Are You?), the first Romanian romcom for many years.

But no one cares about these films abroad. Romania's commercial industry might help put the much-needed infrastructure in place, but only the arthouse can bring it respect. The rift between the Romanian new wave and its home audience could end up hurting the global profile of the industry, if the movement runs to seed. Unfortunately, the government's priorities lie elsewhere: last year, it killed off funding for the body responsible for promoting Romanian films abroad (which had to resort to Kickstarter to help fund last year's Romanian film festival in New York).

In some ways, the Romanian new wave is fighting the same battle undergone by the other localised culture surges of the noughties, such as Japanese J-horror, the Latin American buena onda, the South Koreanhallyu; the battle for survival outside the initial warming spotlight of the global media. But they weren't short on commercial appeal – compared to them, Romanian cinema is the grumpy, grimy puppy of the bunch. It would be a shame if audiences – home and abroad – didn't discover how much character it has. And what bite.

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Economist: Not ready for Schengen

Romania and the EU
Mar 7th 2013, 16:47 by L.C. | BUCHAREST

“IF Romania and Bulgaria insist on a vote, the attempt will fail because of a German veto," said Hans-Peter Friedrich, the German minister of the interior in an interview with the news website of Der Spiegel, a German weekly. Both countries must take further steps to prevent migrants abusing the system, Mr Friedrich added.

Romania and Bulgaria were hoping to find out of the date of their admission to the passport-free Schengen zone today at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels. But Germany (and Finland) say both countries are not ready. According to Mr Friedrich, who is a member of the conservative Bavarian Christian Social Union allied to Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, said that they have to do much more to fight corruption. Mr Friedrich also argued in favour of penalties for those who come to Germany only to get social-welfare benefits.

Thanks to Mr Friedrich’s warning, Victor Ponta (pictured above), Romania’s prime minister, decided not to insist on a vote on the issue at the summit. Traian Băsescu, the president, agreed with the government’s position, but insisted that the country should ask for a new deadline either in September or December this year. “Romania’s major aim is to get into the Schengen zone and no sacrifice should be big enough to make this happen, not even sacrificing the country’s corrupted people”, he said. Mr Băsescu added at least seven countries oppose his country’s membership in the Schengen zone mainly because of the report by the EU’s Mechanism for Cooperation and Verification (CVM on the (lack of) progress on judicial reform and the fight against corruption in Romania.

In the latest CVM report published in January this year, the European Commission criticised Romania for failing to meet demands on protecting democracy and the rule of law and urged the government to accelerate its reforms. The report underlines that the justice system had to face political pressure and anti-corruption prosecutors were undermined. The Commissioned expressed concerns regarding “the lack of respect for the independence of the judiciary and the instability faced by judicial institutions.”

It is not the first time Romania is denied access to the Schengen area. Bucharest has been trying to acquire membership for the last three years. In 2012, the Netherlands oppose Romania's admission, arguing that the previous CVM report, published last July, didn’t show enough progress. This report was released in the middle of a political crisis that damaged Romania’s credibility. In 2010, France was the first country to point out that Romania and Bulgaria are not ready yet to join the Schengen zone. Pierre Lellouche, who back then was France’s state secretary for European affairs, expressed his concern about the Romanian-Moldovan border "because of the distribution of Romanian passports outside their border".

For Romanians the Schengen membership (if ever they get it) will not bring a major change. They have been able to travel around Europe only with their ID or passport since 2007 when their country became an EU member.

Even so, another Schengen membership postponement is a setback for Romania. As long as the Romanian parliament continues to block the prosecution for corruption charges of high-profile politicians and Romanians rely on bribes to solve their daily problems, the country’s integration into the EU will not be completed.

AP Interview: Romanian president blasts corruption

By ALISON MUTLER — Associated Press
BUCHAREST, ROMANIA — Romania risks always being treated like an outsider in Europe unless it tackles issues such as government corruption, the Eastern European nation's president warned Thursday.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Traian Basescu said Romania has a serious image problem - one that he acknowledged has fueled Western European fears of a flood of welfare-seeking immigrants and petty criminals if the country is ever admitted into Europe's border-free zone, known as Schengen.

"Let's answer this positively and make it a national objective to join the Schengen zone," the 61-year-old Romanian leader said.

Passport-free travel in much of the continent under the so-called Schengen agreement is considered one of the European Union's signal achievements. The zone is made up of 26 countries, including some non-EU states.

But the Netherlands has led opposition to Romania and Bulgaria joining the Schengen zone, and Germany and Finland have also said they are reluctant to let the poor EU members in, citing organized crime, corruption and flaws in those nations' judicial systems.

Romania is one of the EU's most corrupt countries, according to Transparency International. Basescu said the tainted image of the ex-communist state is a main reason why it is unable to tap EU funds for development - people fear the money will simply vanish.

Referring to some well-publicized domestic corruption scandals involving several ministers, Basescu wondered if Romania was "willing to sacrifice two or three corrupt officials for obstructing the national interest or not?"

"This is a test for the political class," the Romanian president said, urging his fellow countrymen not to feel singled out and to simply get their house in order.

Embezzlement and fraud long went unpunished in Romania, particularly for those with high-level connections, but in recent years there have been many more prosecutions of senior officials.

Former Prime Minister Adrian Nastase is serving a two-year sentence for corruption-related charges, and last month two ministers were convicted of corruption and sentenced to three years in prison.

Nonetheless, petty graft remains a problem, with allegations of corruption among police and customs officials. Those involved in the transportation industry have called for Romania to be admitted to Schengen, arguing it would eliminate bribery and corruption at border crossing points.

Basescu, a former ship captain, has been president since 2004 and survived two impeachments. His current - and last - term ends in 2014.

About 7 million Romanians voted to remove him from office in July on grounds that he had overstepped his constitutional authority by meddling in government affairs, but he survived because the turnout was too low.

The center-left government which initiated the impeachment was criticized by the EU and Washington for not respecting the rule of law in its bid to unseat the president.

Basescu has a reputation of being outspoken and sometimes confrontational, but in his interview with AP, he appeared relaxed, laughing and gesticulating at times. Asked about his weaknesses or failures, he responded frankly, "Please don't ask me to make myself vulnerable now."

Basescu told the AP that next week he planned to appeal to Parliament - the same Parliament that impeached him last year - to put the national interest above personal interests.

It was a sign that he appears to be focusing less on political rivalries and more on his country's place in the European architecture - as well as, perhaps, his personal legacy in crafting it.

Dealing with corrupt ministers, reforming laws or meeting other EU demands "are minor issues compared to the importance of becoming a country that is in Schengen," he said.

Read more here:

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Financial Times: Romania and Bulgaria GDP growth: just stagnating along

Romania averted recession in the last quarter of 2012, but can only look forward to a long and slow slog this year as external and internal problems weigh heavy.

GDP crept forwards at a seasonally-adjusted rate of 0.1 per cent from the third quarter, and an unadjusted 0.3 per cent from the fourth quarter of 2011, the National Statistics Institute (INS) announced on Wednesday, giving details of figures published last month.

The tiny rise – following a 0.3 per cent drop in Q3 2012 –was driven by increasing consumption, which grew by 1 per cent, offsetting a dramatic drop in agriculture, which fell 24.6 per cent year-on-year due largely to a poor harvest.

Industrial output also fell, by 2.4 per cent, highlighting the squeeze caused by the eurozone crisis and internal structural challenges. Construction, a boom industry in the good years of the last decade, shrank by 2.1 per cent.

Overall GDP grew by just 0.2 per cent in 2012, according to a flash estimate by the INS released in February. A note by SocieteGenerale published before the Q4 results were released suggested that growth would rise to 1.3 per cent this year, provided there is an agricultural recovery and domestic demand rises. Recent forecasts from official sources and the World Bank are similarly cautious, at 1.5 per cent and 1.6 per cent respectively.

After several years of strong growth in the 2000s, Romania has been hit hard by the 2009 global recession and the eurozone crisis, which have revealed systemic weaknesses in its economy. The government is in a long-drawn out proces of seeking a new loan package from the IMF. Negotiations have been postponed due to Romania’s political crisis last year, and the need for it to push forward long-overdue reforms and privatisations.

“The growth in the last quarter was driven by consumption as public salaries rose in the middle of last year,” says Romanian journalist CristianPantazi. “But overall Romania has been affected by the eurozone and an associated slowdown in industrial production, which is the major problem for the country. Two of the main reasons are the price of energy, and low productivity compared to other European countries.”

Pantazi cites the example of Mechel, a major Russian-owned steel company, which sold its five Romanian plants last month for just $70.

“The outlook is not positive,” he adds. “We see protests every day from workers at public and privately-owned companies angry about job losses, low salaries, and rising bills. This will be another very difficult year for Romania, and it will be difficult to meet fiscal needs without help from the IMF and European Commission.”

Street protests against economic hardship, corruption and government authoritarianism last year led to the fall of Romania’s government, a story that has been repeated in recent weeks in Bulgaria.

Last month, Prime Minister BoykoBorisov resigned following demonstrations against his right-of-centre government, throwing Bulgaria into political uncertainly.

Romania’s southern neighbor and fellow EU member registered growth of just 0.8 per cent last year, according to figures published on Wednesday. The economy is expected to expand by less than 2 per cent in 2013, and the opaque policy outlook in the run-up to – and probably aftermath of – snap elections in May is a serious downside risk.

While Romania can count on a large internal market and a diversified economy, Bulgaria is in a stronger position fiscally. In December, the IMF estimated that its budget deficit would fall to 1.3 per cent of GDP for full-year 2012, with debt at just 18.5 per cent of GDP.

But for both countries, the bumper years seem far behind, and low incomes and at best modest growth a reality for the foreseeable future.

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Monday, March 4, 2013

Romania believes rival nation behind "MiniDuke" cyber attack

(Reuters) - Romania believes another state was behind the "MiniDuke" cyber attack that hit its national security institutions as well as NATO and other European countries, its SRI secret service said on Friday.

It did not say which foreign power it suspected.

Earlier this week, Russia's Kaspersky Lab and Hungary's Laboratory of Cryptography and System Security, or CrySyS, said the targets of the campaign included government computers in the Czech Republic, Ireland, Portugal and Romania.

They also said a think tank, research institute and healthcare provider in the United States were among those targeted by the malicious software, which they have dubbed "MiniDuke".

NATO also confirmed it had been targeted, although the alliance said its computer systems had been unaffected.

"It is a cyber attack ... pursued by an entity that has the characteristics of a state actor," SRI spokesman Sorin Sava told Reuters in a phone interview on Friday.

"Our estimations show the attack is certainly relevant to Romania's national security taking into account the profile of the compromised entities," Sava said, adding that private organizations had also been targeted.

One of the researchers involved in identifying the attack told Reuters earlier this week he also suspected a foreign government was involved, but did not say which. Romania is the first government to make such a suggestion.

The MiniDuke hackers attacked their victims by exploiting recently-discovered security bugs in Adobe's Reader and Acrobat software. They sent their targets PDF documents tainted with malware, an approach that hackers commonly use to infect PCs.

Adobe said it had released a software patch to cover the flaw, and any users who had downloaded it would be protected against "MiniDuke".

Computer security experts and Western officials say state-backed cyber attacks aimed at stealing information have soared in recent years. While they rarely attribute blame publicly, in private many blame China - although Beijing angrily denies the charge.

In this case, however, computer experts say an attacker from the former Soviet Union could be more likely. "MiniDuke" in some ways resembles a banking fraud Trojan dubbed "TinBa" believed to have been created by Russian criminal hackers.

SRI would not give the names of the affected institutions. Sava said specialized secret service "reaction teams" were investigating the size of the attack to "limit its consequences and stop it".

"This attack has a bigger impact because of its superior technological level that allows it to better conceal itself and take over control over a compromised network in order to extract information," Sava said.

(Additional reporting by Peter Apps; Writing by Radu Marinas; Editing by Andrew Roche)

Minister: Germany would veto Bulgaria, Romania in Schengen


Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich told this week's Spiegel magazine that Germany would not currently allow Romania or Bulgaria to join the open-border Schengen Area. Often called the Schengen zone, the area incorporates 22 EU member states and four European non-EU members.

Romania and Bulgaria, which joined the EU in 2007, are obliged to join the area - but the process has been delayed pending the completion of other obligations like tackling corruption and organized crime.

EU interior and justice ministers meet in Brussels on Thursday with this issue on the agenda.

"Should Romania and Bulgaria insist upon a vote [at the meeting], then the proposal will fail by virtue of a German veto," Friedrich told Spiegel. " Even the possibility of partial approval - for arrival by air, or seaports - is off the table."

Friedrich said that both countries still had work to do on the other preconditions for Schengen membership, saying this was why Germany would block an eventual motion at the present time.

He also sought to ward off warnings of economic migration from two of the EU's poorest members.

"The right to freedom of movement means that every EU citizen can live in every member state, if they are working or studying there. Any EU citizen who fulfills these criteria is welcome here," Friedrich said. "But whoever is only coming to cash in on state benefits, and is therefore abusing this freedom of movement, needs to be meaningfully prevented."

Side-swipe at the Commission

The interior minister, a member of the Bavarian CSU, sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, said this could be achieved with progress on two fronts: better use of EU development funds by governments in countries like Romania or Bulgaria, and stricter punishments for people found traveling abroad to claim social welfare.

Friedrich said he would be pushing for punitive measures like a one-year ban on people returning to a country after they were sent home on such grounds.

"The European Commission will have to learn to pay closer attention to the points of view and sensibilities of people within the member states," Friedrich said, when asked whether the suggestion might be poorly received in Brussels. "This fundamental position of 'we'll turn a blind eye here, the main thing is that the EU continues to grow' is no longer acceptable from individuals who have a responsibility towards European citizens."

The weekly Spiegel magazine is officially published every Monday but early issues and online subscriptions are accessible on Sundays.