Prime Minister Mugur Isărescu announced this week that he is to run for the presidency. He has already succeeded in gathering the 300,000 signatures of support giving him the right to enter the contest. Isărescu has let it be known that he prefers to run a decent campaign and will not give up his political independence.
He said, "I have too much common sense to realize that the Romanian people will no longer believe in promises. They will no longer be fooled by shows, balloons, trumpets, party hymns, confetti and majorettes either. I shall be myself." (Monitorul, 8 September 2000)
The latest opinion poll carried out by Metro Media showed that 26.3 per cent of the electorate distrust all political parties. Against this background the Party for Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) was shown to have the support of 51.9 per cent of the sample—well in advance of the nearest challenger, the National Liberal Party (PNL) with 12 per cent.
The confusion in Romanian politics is emphasised by contradictions in the poll's findings. PDSR leader and former president, Ion Iliescu, leads in the presidential race with 41.6 per cent support with the apolitical Prime Minister Mugur Isărescu following in a distant second place. Yet, Isărescu is ahead of Iliescu in the category of Romania's most trusted politician.
Iliescu commented that he believes he is the best person for president and dismissed the criticisms of his former Communist background. He said, "We will put forth a program which will gather all forces to bring stability, economic recovery and improved living standards. Romania needs a 'New Deal.'"(Reuters, 6 September 2000)
The poll also addressed the issue of the most important problem facing Romania at the moment. A range of issues were mentioned including: corruption, politicians and politics, pensions, standard of living, poverty, prices, inflation, agriculture, the European Union and NATO membership. The leading issue, identified by 18 per cent of the sample, was the economic crisis.
Trade unionist murdered
The murder of Virgil Sahleanu, a trade union leader at the Tepro pipe works in Iaşi, has been condemned by trade unionists and Prime Minister Isărescu. Sahleanu died after being stabbed by two men outside his home on Thursday. Sahleanu had received regular death threats for opposing the cutbacks in work and jobs at the factory proposed by the Czech investors in the privatised company.
Workers from the factory demonstrated against the killing calling it an assassination. Pavel Todoran, president of the trade union CNSLR-Fratia said, "The intimidation addressed to trade unionists has become a frequent practice in Romania," (Mediafax, 7 September 2000) while Dumitru Costin, leader of the National Trade Union Block (BNS) said, "We have slipped more and more, from a state where the institutions of order are operating to one where mobbish structures are working." (Mediafax, 7 September 2000) Isărescu said that the killing was a great shock and that he was particularly concerned by the way that violence was increasing in Romanian society.
Medical supplies cut to hospitals
The Association of Romanian Medicine Distributors (ADMR) stopped deliveries of medicines to hospitals in six Romanian counties, following accumulated debts from hospitals country-wide of USD 103 million for medicines. Suppliers are paid from funds allocated to the hospitals by the national health insurance fund (CNAS), but hospitals say that funding is insufficient to meet all their needs.
An ADMR representative said, "The association is fully aware of the possible effects of such a measure, especially on the patients, but we have come to make this extreme decision as we have no other solution. All our attempts at getting out of the crisis have gone unanswered by the National Insurance House." (Nine o'clock, 6 September 2000) Many hospitals have run out of basic drugs such as antibiotics and are limiting operations to emergencies only.
The Danube will not be blocked... yet
A proposed blockade of the River Danube by shippers and port operators was postponed on Wednesday following the Romanian government's agreement to write off a debt of USD 1.5 million. Mircea Toader, vice-president of the Danube Shippers and Port Operators Association, said, "We decided together with our trade unions to postpone the blockage until Friday. We must sound an alarm bell over our losses." (Reuters, 7 September 2000)
The blockade was planned to draw attention to the plight of Romanian ship owners. Since the end of the Kosovo conflict—during which Serbian bridges across the Danube were destroyed, effectively blocking the river to shipping—Romanian transport operations on the Danube have been losing in the region of USD 10 million per month. Although the EU has allocated funds for the clearing of the Danube, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević is refusing to allow the operation to commence until funds are made available to repair the effects of the NATO bombing of the country.
The prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Carla del Ponte, has called for the support of Romania and other neighbouring countries of Yugoslavia in bringing to justice those suspected of was crimes. She said it was believed that suspected war criminals frequently used Romania as a place of refuge and regularly visited the country. She asked the government to arrest them if at all possible. She said, "These people do not hide themselves in Romania, where they come from time to time to stay for brief periods." (Agence France Presse, 8 September 2000)
Romania dragging its heels
On Tuesday, the EU Commissioner for Enlargement, Günter Verheugen, labelled Romania as being too slow in their actions to meet the medium-term economic targets essential for EU entry. In response, Foreign Minister Petre Roman said that the European Commission should give Romania credit for what it had achieved—but admitted that attaining the inflation targets and implementing fiscal reform was proving more difficult than expected. Roman added, "When we are looking in the mirror, looking at ourselves, we cannot be satisfied." (Reuters, 6 September 2000)
Roman, meeting in Brussels with Verheugen and Javier Solana, the EU spokesperson on security, also raised the issue of visa requirements that are still imposed on Romanian citizens. Of the 12 candidate countries seeking membership of the EU, only Romania and Bulgaria are still required to ensure that their citizens seek visas for travel in the EU area.
In demanding that this situation be dealt with immediately, Petre Roman suggested that if Romanians were allowed to travel without visa restrictions in Europe then there would be more time to concentrate on strengthening border controls.
It seems that visa problems even affect Romanian President Emil Constantinescu. He was told that, even as Head of State, he would need an entry visa to attend the Olympic games in Sydney, Australia. In a bizarre ruling, Constantinescu discovered that his diplomatic passport was not acceptable to Australia as no appropriate agreement existed between the two countries.
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