Accusations in the run up to the Yugoslavian elections
Yugoslavian Minister of Information Goran Matici has linked NATO exercises that are currently taking place in Romania with secret plans to invade his country. Matici contends that the plans will come into operation after the Yugoslav general elections of 24 September, with the purpose of forcibly removing Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milošević from power.
As the week progressed, Matici reiterated his accusations, saying that the whole purpose of the NATO exercises was to destabilise Yugoslavia. The Romanian response was rapid.
Presidential defence adviser General Constantin Degeratun derided the statements as being such nonsense that they were not worthy of comment. Foreign Minister Petre Roman said that the military exercises had been planned for a long time and were of a defensive, not an aggressive, nature. He went on to liken Milošević to former Romanian leader Nicolae Ceauşescu, referring to the characteristic aggressive reaction of dictators.
President Emil Constantinescu made it clear that the Romanian military operated as the country's defence force and emphasised that Romania did not aspire to acts of aggression. He also stressed that the Romanian forces operated in a transparent manner with details of the maneuvers available on the Ministry of Defence Web site.
Romania not immune to fuel price protests
Gheorge Dinu, leader of the Transport Union (UNTRR), has warned the Government that truck drivers will take action next month against current high fuel prices in Romania. He called on the government to respond to their demands to freeze the price of petrol and diesel oil and to cut the tax on these products. The cost of fuel has increased five times this year. UNTRR has warned that refineries will be blockaded and that truck drivers will disrupt major road routes throughout Romania.
The Romanian border police stopped and arrested a Czech national who had previously been ordered to remain in the country. A spokesperson said, "The border police halted Frantisek Priplata at the Bors customs and he was led to the prosecutor's office for hearings" (Reuters, 20 September 2000.) His detention is linked to investigations into the murder of Virgil Sahleanu in Iaşi. Sahleanu was the trade union leader who led workers' protests at the Tepro pipeworks. Priplata is the representative of the majority shareholder, Czech company Zelezarni Veseli, at the Tepro plant.
Border police throughout Romania were ordered to ensure that Priplata would not leave the country. Iaşi police are investigating his alleged involvement in the forging of promissory notes to the value of USD two million that acted as a guarantee for investment in the Tepro works.
In a further twist, EvZ reported on 19 September that Sahleanu's sister Valeria implicated President Constantinescu's son, Dragos, in the case. In a broadcast on Tele7abc she said that the killing of her brother was a political act as he had evidence that Dragos Constantinescu was a corrupt person. Constantinescu refuted the allegations in a statement and suggested that he was being set up by the Greater Romania Party (at one time Sahleanu had been a member of EvZ).
Scandals surface again
In a sign that the parliamentary and presidential elections are fast approaching, three scandals that hit Romania earlier in the year have made the news again.
Investors in the collapsed Fondul Naţional de Investiţii (FNI) took to the streets of Bucharest this week to protest, once more, the delay in the Government's investigation into the collapse of the savings fund. Representatives for the protesters met with Finance Minister Decebal Traian Remeş, but were disappointed at his response. He held out little hope for the return of the full value of the savings (held as units) by investors. The FNI closed its doors in May this year amid allegations of impropriety which implicated individuals, businesses and state organisations.
The Romanian authorities are seeking an extradition warrant for Adrian Costea who was at the centre of a case in which senior members of the Party for Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR), including presidential candidate Ion Iliescu, were called to give evidence. Costea is wanted in connection with illegal oil imports made between 1992 and 1993. Agence France Presse reported on 15 September that "Costea is suspected by French prosecutors of embezzling Romanian public funds worth more than USD 58 million."
"Cigarette II," a long running cigarette smuggling case, has been raised again with allegations and counter allegations of important figures close to the presidency being involved.
Romanian elections: voting cards for only three million
In Romania there are 16 million eligible voters. Before the November presidential and general elections the police are required to print and issue three million voting cards to voters. The remaining 13 million voters will have to present either their identity cards or passports at the relevant polling station in order to record their votes. In previous elections held since 1989 this process of voting has led to allegations of electors voting without identity cards and of double voting.
Elections and the road to the presidency
The latest INSOMAR opinion poll suggests that Ion Iliescu of the PDSR will win the first ballot in the presidential elections. His latest standing of 43 per cent of the sample questioned gives him a substantial lead over current Prime Minister Mugur Isârescu who is the closest contender with 19 per cent.
The poll shows, however, that if the election goes to a second ballot, Isârescu will win with 53 per cent of the vote. Jonathan Eyal, Director of Studies at the Royal United Services Institute in London said, "The choice is rather simple—between a person who has already failed in the past, but who wants to have another try, and another person who can take Romania into the 21st century" (Reuters, 21 September 2000.) Isârescu is expected to confirm his candidacy next week and join the ten other presidential candidates.
The games that had a bizarre beginning for Romania have brought the country success in the world arena. First, President Emil Constantinescu was told that he needed to have a visa to enter Australia in order to support the Romanian team. Two positive drug tests then led to the suspension of the weight lifting team from the games—only for the four clean members of the team to be reinstated on payment of USD 50,000.
Then success. The Romanian women's gymnastics team made Olympic history by winning every medal in the all-round women's competition to add to their team gold medal from the previous day's victory.
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