1999 Scores

Status: Free
Freedom Rating: 2.0
Civil Liberties: 2
Political Rights: 2


Romania was plagued by slow economic reforms, debilitating strikes, endemic poverty, corruption, and political squabbling in 1999. Despite these negative trends, Romania demonstrated its support to NATO and the European Union through the Kosovo conflict, thus increasing its chances of entry into both organizations.

In January 1999, miners from the Jiu Valley went on strike and threatened to march on Bucharest if their demands, including a 35 percent wage increase and greater job security, were not met. The miners were protesting the closings of two unprofitable state mines, which were part of an economic reform package critical to Romania's attempt to gain financial help from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The miners clashed with police, provoking social unrest and threatening political stability and economic progress in an already fragile country. Although the strike did pose a threat, the authorities were able to maintain control and an agreement to reopen the two mines and to increase wages was supposedly established.

Romania became independent following the 1878 Berlin Congress. It gained territory after World War I, but lost some to the Soviet Union and Bulgaria in 1940. When Soviet troops entered the country in 1944, King Michael dismissed the pro-German regime and backed the Allies. In 1945, he was forced to accept a Communist-led coalition government. The autarkic economics and repressive governance of Communist strongman Nicolae Ceausescu devastated Romania during his rule from 1965 to 1989.

On December 25, 1989, Ceausescu was tried and executed following a popular uprising and palace coup by disgruntled Communists. A provisional government was formed under President Ion Iliescu, a high-ranking Communist and leader of the National Salvation Front (NSF). The 1992 parliamentary elections saw the NSF split between neo-Communist and more reformist members.

In November 1996, the reformer, Emil Constantinescu, of the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR) defeated Iliescu with 54.41 percent of the votes while Ion Iliescu scored 45.59 percent in the presidential elections. The CDR won 122 seats in the chamber of deputies (lower house) and 53 seats in the senate. Iliescu's Party of Social Democracy of Romania (PDSR) won 91 seats in the lower house and 41 seats in the senate. Victor Ciorbea, a lawyer, former labor leader, and ex-mayor of Bucharest was chosen prime minister to lead the coalition government. In March 1998 Ciorbea resigned and Radu Vasile, secretary general of the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic became prime minister.

Romania's frustration about their economic position has created a lack of confidence and support for Constantinescu's coalition government (CDR), which is comprised of National Peasant Party Christian Democrats (PNTCD), Social Democrats (USD), Liberals (PNL), and ethnic Hungarians (UDMR). In December, Constantinescu dismissed Prime Minister Vasile after ten out of the seventeen cabinet members had resigned. Vasile was accused of failing to speed up economic reforms and improve living conditions. The head of the Central Bank of Romania (BNR), Mugur Isarescu, replaced Vasile as prime minister. The latest opinion poll in December shows Iliescu leading with 40 percent and Constantinescu trailing at 23 percent.

The economy is in its third consecutive year of contraction, having suffered severe weather conditions and trade losses resulting from blocked shipping on the Danube due to the Kosovo war. The IMF also had posed strict conditions for the disbursement of a loan of US$547 million this year, including adopting a budget with a deficit of no more than 2.5 percent of gross domestic product and obtaining US$350 million in private loans before signing the deal. The government met another demand; the absorption by Banca Comerciala Romana of the state Bancorex bank. The IMF loan enabled Romania to receive US$325 million in World Bank loans and US$207 million in credits from the EU, all of which helped to avoid default on Romania's external debt of US$2.2 million and the restructuring of Romania's privatization program.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Romanians can change their government democratically under a multiparty system enshrined in a 1991 post-Communist constitution. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) judged the 1996 presidential and parliamentary elections "free and generally fair," citing such problems as incomplete voter registration rolls and irregularities in registering candidates.

The 1991 constitution enshrines freedom of expression and the press, but it limits the boundaries of free expression by prohibiting "defamation of the country." Under Law No. 40 of the 1996 Romanian penal code, journalists face up to two years' imprisonment for libel and up to five years for disseminating false information that affects Romania's international relations and national security. Two journalists were sentenced to a one-year prison term and fined for slander. In January 1999 Constantinescu pardoned another journalist who was sentenced in 1998 for libel. There were also reports of attacks on journalists who were writing stories on illicit business deals.

Religious freedom is generally respected although newer religious organizations have not been allowed to register with the state secretary of religions, which had denied their right to freely exercise their religious beliefs and prevented them from building places of worship, cemeteries, etc. The pope visited Romania in 1999 hoping to begin a dialogue between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches. The Greek Catholic Church of the Byzantine Rite joined with the pope to seek recovery of numerous properties seized by the Communists in 1948.

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly, and the government respects this right. Workers have the right to form unions and strike. The economic and political transition has affected the Romanian population as various sectors; such as trade unions, workers, and rail workers have gone on strike and demanded higher salaries, better working conditions, and job security.

The Romania's justice system is divided into four courts: the Courts of First Instance, the Tribunals, the Courts of Appeals, and the Supreme Court of Justice. All are independent of other government branches but subject to influence by the executive branch. Under the law, judges are appointed, promoted, and transferred by the 15-member Higher Council of the Judiciary, which is elected for four-year terms by the two chambers of parliament. To diminish the politicization of the process, a 1997 revision of the law called for the members of the Higher Council to be appointed by the justice minister, not by parliament.

There are no significant changes in the 1996 Penal Code that replaced the Communist-era criminal code. It includes Article 200, which punishes displays of public homosexuality. Helsinki Watch of Romania reported police brutality and beatings. The Roma (Gypsy) population is still subject to human rights abuses. There are cases of police brutality directed at the Roma and their complaints are less frequently registered or investigated than those by the general population. May 1999 saw the adoption of a civil service law requiring civil servants whose duties involve direct contact with the public in areas where an ethnic minority constitutes 20 percent or more of the population to be able to speak the minority's language. In July 1999, the government agreed to establish university departments offering courses in minority languages.

Corruption is endemic in the government bureaucracy, civil service, and business. Property rights are secure, though the ability of citizens to start businesses continues to be encumbered by red tape, corruption, and organized crime.

There are no restrictions on travel within the country, and citizens who want to change their place of residence do not face any official barriers. Women have equal rights with men, though violence against women, including rape, continues to be a serious problem.

This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.