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Poor Romania’s struggles an afterthought amid EU crisis

08/07/2012
A family of ethnic Roma people is seen in Craica slum at Romania’s northern town of Baia Mare, 550 km northwest of Bucharest. There are an estimated 10 million Romas across Europe and one in five lives in Romania. The vast majority live on the margins of society in abject poverty, which makes them easy targets in troubled times, and pro-democracy groups say post-communist governments in the region have not done enough to improve their plight. Photo BOGDAN CRISTEL , REUTERS.

A family of ethnic Roma people is seen in Craica slum at Romania’s northern town of Baia Mare, 550 km northwest of Bucharest. There are an estimated 10 million Romas across Europe and one in five lives in Romania. The vast majority live on the margins of society in abject poverty, which makes them easy targets in troubled times, and pro-democracy groups say post-communist governments in the region have not done enough to improve their plight. Photo BOGDAN CRISTEL, REUTERS.

BUCHAREST, Romania — The epochal economic uncertainties hobbling Europe vary greatly from country to country.

The dire budget problems of, in no particular order, Greece, Spain, Portugal and Ireland, have been chewed over a lot. So have the potential consequences for France and Britain, which have serious fiscal shortfalls, too, and for Germany, which may slowly drown if its partners keep sinking.

Far from the international headlines on the edge of the European Union’s eastern margins, countries such as Romania have been struggling, too. Its GDP has shrunk this year, meaning the country has slid into recession for the second time in four years.

But there has been no talk of bailouts or other huge infusions of cash here. Romania produces relatively little, so when its GDP drops the impact is less than when more developed economies get into similar straits. Nor does Romania have to make deep cuts to social services, pensions or aid for the unemployed because it never has invested much money in those.[???]

Few outsiders may know it, but Romania is a member of NATO as well as the European Union. Its 19 million citizens — the second poorest in the EU — are used to being an afterthought.

Except for when its Ploesti oilfields were plundered to fuel the Nazi machine during the Second World War, Romania has seldom attracted much attention from Berlin, Paris or London.[???] Even Moscow largely ignored Romania during Bucharest’s long, unhappy association with communism.[???]

But that is not to say that Romania is not a fascinating sideshow. Romanians were so angry over government corruption and tough austerity measures introduced in February that they held violent[???] street protests which forced the prime minister, Emil Boc, and his entire cabinet to resign.

All that I knew of Romania before I first visited in 1981 was that it had been the home of Vlad the Impaler, a warlord and prince from Transylvania[???] better known as Dracula after Bram Stoker added some ghoulish flourishes to his biography.

I first came to Bucharest during the World University Games in 1981. I remember the Universiade for four dark reasons.

– There was blatant cheating by the home side, such as moving the markers forward after Romanian athletes threw the javelin.

– Police had no qualms about putting on brass knuckles before wading into a crowd of spectators.[???]

– The Securitate (secret police) were so omnipresent that a pair of them would stand one metre away from the table when journalists ate, so as to prevent the “social contamination” that might have arisen if Romanians had been allowed to speak with them.

– While a great majority of Romanians were so poor that some families had one single light bulb to brighten and warm their homes[???], the dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, and his equally monstrous wife, Elena, were busy throwing their enemies in jail when they were not building palaces[???] and establishing Europe’s greatest cult of personality since Stalin died.

All this is to say that while Romania has mostly been a forgotten backwater there are many stories worth telling here.

The ruling centre-left parliamentary coalition passed a motion Friday to impeach President Traian Basescu until a national referendum can be held to decide whether he should stay in office. Basescu is accused of abusing power. That is a code word in these parts for corruption.[???]

At the same time the new prime minister, Victor Ponta, who is Basescu’s sworn enemy[???], has said he will resign if it can be proven that he plagiarized his doctorate about the International Criminal Court. Curiously, Ponta’s professor was another former prime minister, Adrian Nastase, who may or may not have tried to kill himself last month by firing or not firing a bullet into his neck hours after being the first senior Romanian official[???] to be sent to jail for corruption. What actually happened remains unknown.

With such strange happenings it is small wonder that the EU and the United States have been concerned enough to expressed fears for the future of democracy in Romania. And all this in a year when Romania had hoped to join the EU’s now besieged currency union by adopting the Euro.[???]

Romanians have reacted with a shrug to their wrenching economic and political difficulties and the lack of outside interest in helping them to sort their problems out. Life has always been tough in Romania, politicians and police have always been vile, and there are no expectations that it will ever by different.

What difference does it make to anybody if Romanians have to once again tighten their belts a notch or two or go elsewhere in search of work and money? Doing without is the most common thread in Romanian history.
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»Fisher: Poor Romania’s struggles an afterthought amid EU crisis

English: President Traian Basescu at the Gypsy...

English: President Traian Basescu at the Gypsy Festival, Romania 2009 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They don’t seem to be that poor, these Gypsies! And certainly not neglected.
They have at least one “King”, an “Emperor”, a lot of “princes” and “honorable men”!
And they are also known to be very good at “helping themselves”.

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