Vol 1, No 3, 12 July 1999
C E N T R A L E U R O P E A N N E W S:|
Romanian News Round-up
Catherine and David Lovatt
Adrian Streinu, head of Romania's new National Anti-AIDS Commission (CNLAS), stated that at the end of March, 3628 children and 731 adults were registered with HIV and another 2964 children and 457 adults with AIDS. (Reuters Bucharest, 2 July 1999)
HIV infections were first registered in 1985 but were kept secret. When Romanians learned the truth it was found that hundreds of children had been infected, mainly as a result of unscreened blood being used in transfusions. Streinu said that Romania was now witnessing a rise in the number of infections transmitted from parents to children. He made these comments as it was announced that the U.S. pharmaceutical research company Merck Sharp & Dohme had donated computers and blood analysis equipment to a new network of six regional AIDS treatment centres.
Last year, an order was made requiring several groups to be tested for the HIV virus including pregnant women, sailors and couples getting married. Adrian Streinu said it was hoped that the order would produce results in five to ten years. He went on to report that the health ministry had allocated the CNLAS a 200 percent increase in its funding for 1999.
Opinion polls are indicating that Radu Vasile's centrist coalition is trailing the leftist opposition. With elections due late next year, the Prime Minister warned that although his government had made progress, reforms would be jeopardised if the country were to lose its political stability. "Should anything happen to derail Romania's political stability now, the situation would become not just critical but extremely dramatic,'' he said (Reuters Bucharest, 5 July 1999). He reported that the initial forecast of 25% inflation would be exceeded and could even reach the 1998 inflation figure of 40.6%. He further expects Romania's economy to contract for a third consecutive year with a further reduction of 2.2%. The Prime Minister went on to highlight improvements in the country's privatisation record, reductions of Romania's foreign debt servicing and a prospective new International Monetary Fund credit.
The government's problems are complicated further by considerable worries about the size of this year's wheat harvest. Heavy rain and floods in May caused damage to 11,000 hectares. In June, more rains hit other areas planted with wheat. Although the government forecast a harvest of 4.7million tonnes - with domestic consumption at 3.8 million tonnes - some analysts consider this as wildly optimistic and suggest that the harvest will be no more than 3.5 million tonnes. The Agriculture Ministry are reported as saying that Romania would not resort to imports. The potential problems are immense.
On Tuesday, the government faced further criticism. Former President Ion Iliescu warned that Romania faced instability because of renewed disputes within the centrist coalition government - a government that has driven Romania into crisis through prolonged recession caused by mismanaged and confused policies. In the latest opinion polls, 37% of Romanians said they would vote for Iliescu, with 38% saying they would vote for his party, the PDSR. His lead over President Emil Constantinescu has increased to 17%, while the PDSR led the Democratic Convention by 14%. 47% of citizens said they did not know who to vote for.
The Christian Democrats, Social Democrats, Liberals and ethnic Hungarians are the four component parties of the governing coalition. There have been many disagreements between the parties since they took power, leading to continued speculation over the future of the coalition. This speculation intensified last week when the National Council of the National Liberal Party (PNL) said that it would enter the next local elections with a separate list for its candidates.
A sudden strike by bus and tram drivers caused chaos and confusion in Bucharest on Tuesday. The drivers were demanding that their salaries should be doubled, even though they agreed last week to salaries that are more than twice the national average. Although Bucharest's metro system carried a million additional passengers, metro workers held a protest of their own against plans to turn the underground into a commercial venture. There was also labour unrest at Petromidia, where oil refinery workers stopped working. Additionally, in Iasi Tepro workers stopped work to protest against job losses.
Romania's President, Emil Constantinescu, is reported to have had a very positive meeting with his Turkish counterpart Suleyman Demirel, especially with regard to co-operation between industries in the two countries. However, the Romanian government said that if the Turkish firm, Akmaya, backed out of a deal to buy a majority stake in the Petromidia Black Sea crude oil refinery, it would relaunch the sell off. This comes at a time when the work force at Petromidia is protesting against the continued closure of the plant while the sale is negotiated.
On Monday, Mihai Ionescu, General Secretary of the National Association of Romanian Exporters and Importers, said that he feared the government's continued ban on the export of oil products to Yugoslavia will cause losses of at least USD 1 billion from the suspension of contracts. Bulgaria has already begun trading again with Yugoslavia, and Ionescu is concerned that Romanian companies will be disadvantaged in securing contracts as part of the rebuilding process in Yugoslavia.
Andrei Plesu, Romanian Foreign Minister, is seeking urgent action to end the oil embargo, but he said Romania would not act unilaterally. Romania's losses, as a result of the embargo, are an estimated USD 850 million. The disruption of Danube shipping is the principal cause of the losses, which will continue to rise as long as the EU's oil embargo remains in place. At a news conference during a visit by German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer on Thursday, Plesu told reporters: " we have learned that we cannot take unilateral measures before the entire European Union works out a coherent, consistent strategy on the issue. We hope this issue will be debated soon with a result favourable to us.'' (Reuters Bucharest, 8 July 1999). Next week, the head of the EU's reconstruction efforts in the Balkans, Bodo Hombach, will visit Romania.
In Bucharest on Thursday, NATO Secretary General, Javier Solana, thanked Romania for supporting the NATO campaign against Yugoslavia. He said that Romania would have a major role to play in the stability plan for rebuilding the Balkans: "NATO countries and European Union countries will never forget what you have done. Your country has an important role to play in the stability of the region and I'm sure that your country is going to play it'' (Reuters Bucharest, 8 July 1999). Although President Constantinescu spoke of Romania's aim for NATO membership, Solana's only response was that NATO aimed to bring the Balkan countries closer to the alliance.
The widely used 10,000-lei Romanian banknote has a new design although it still depicts former Prime Minister Nicolae Iorga, who was assassinated by fascists in 1940. According to the Chief Cashier of Romania's Central Bank, Dan Florescu, it will be smaller and much more difficult to forge. The new note is worth about 60 US cents. Inflation has meant that when compared with the US dollar Romania's currency is worth 760 times less than it was ten years ago.
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