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Archive for the ‘Mystical Land of Romania’ Category

No election fever in Romanian village thriving with EU funds

May 24, 2019

LUNCAVITA, Romania (AP) — In 2014, the Romanian village of Luncavita had one of the lowest voter turnouts in the country for the European Parliament election — all of 19.3%.  But the southeastern village has increasingly figured out how to draw in exceptional amounts of European Union money for development projects. When the polling stations open again Sunday for this year’s European Parliament vote, more residents say they will be there.

The village’s turnout was hardly an exception in Romania’s Tulcea County, where just 27.5% of eligible voters cast ballots, the second-lowest figure in Romania, according to the Permanent Electoral Authority.

“You can find this effect across Eastern Europe,” said Sorin Ionita, a political analyst with Expert Forum, a Bucharest-based think-tank. “People think Europe is so big and runs so well that they don’t need us to tell them what to do.”

Voter turnout across the continent has been declining for decades in the European Parliament elections, falling to an all-time low of 42.5% in 2014. That included a range from 13% in Slovakia to 90% in Belgium, where voting is compulsory. Last month, the EU launched a three-minute video to inspire more Europeans to vote.

Since 2004, Luncavita has attracted more than 55 million euros ($61.3 million) in European funds, or almost 12,000 euros ($13,345) for each of its 4,600 residents. The man responsible for turning the village into an EU money magnet is Marian Ilie, who was preparing for the priesthood before a 2002 accident landed him in a wheelchair. Ilie then found a new vocation as project manager for the use of European Union funds allocated to his hometown.

Among other projects, EU money has financed the local drinking water and sewage system, a water treatment plant, roads and a school renovation. For Mayor Stefan Ilie, Marian’s brother, the EU “is fundamental to our development.”

“If Romania were to exit the EU tomorrow, it would return to communism within five years,” Stefan Ilie said. Marioara Banea, a 63-year-old local retiree, remembers tying a rope from her home to the backyard outhouse so her blind mother could find it.

“The EU changed my life,” Banea said. “Now we have water. We used to queue at the well for hours … and we have indoor plumbing too!” Despite the EU-related benefits, she didn’t vote in the EU elections in 2009 or 2014.

“I didn’t know what the EU was, but now that I see how much money they gave us, I’m going to,” Banea said, hoping some new EU funds will help build a home for the elderly. While some 3.6 million Romanians — most under the age of 40 — have left the country since it joined the EU in 2007, European money is also helping to bring some of them back to Luncavita. After working for six years in Italy, Radu Canepa, 34, came back to Romania and started a small farm with 30,000 euros ($33,420) in EU funding, buying some land and five cows.

The milk he sells to a local processing plant brings about in 1,000 euros ($1,115) a month. Canepa hopes to apply for an addition 10,000 euros ($11,180) to expand his business. “Without EU funds, I’d still be in Italy right now,” Canepa said.

Valentina Radu also worked in Italy, but when her husband lost his job there, they struggled to pay the rent and decided to come home. They also used EU funds to buy a small farm, which now has 25 cows.

But Radu wanted to have a second business, and after talking with Marian Ilie, she settled on opening a tailor’s shop. She bought machinery and raw materials with the help of the 70,000 euros ($78,000) she received from the EU and her traditional Romanian blouses and skirts are now in high demand.

For Romania, Sunday’s vote will also be a test run for the country’s presidential election this fall, with political parties trying out messages on voters now. “People do appreciate the support they get from the EU, but their feeling is that the EU works with or without them,” said Ionita, the analyst.

Still, Radu is very appreciative of the EU’s role in her successful enterprises, saying the bloc has “changed my life for the better.” “I will definitely vote this time around,” she added. “I want to expand my business and EU funds are the way to go.”

Nicolae Dumitrache and Vadim Ghirda contributed to this report.

EU leader concerned about Romania holding bloc presidency

December 29, 2018

BERLIN (AP) — The head of the European Union’s executive branch has questioned whether Romania is ready for the political give-and-take of holding the EU presidency, though he says the country is “technically well-prepared” for the role.

EU countries take turns occupying the presidency for six-month terms. The position involves setting the bloc’s agenda and acting as a diplomatic go-between among the 28 members. Romania takes over the rotating role on Jan. 1 amid deep political divisions at home and a contentious domestic judicial overhaul.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was quoted Saturday as telling Germany’s Welt am Sonntag newspaper that Romania is “technically well-prepared” in part thanks to the Commission’s help.

“But I think the government in Bucharest hasn’t yet fully understood what it means to take the chair over the EU countries,” he added. “For judicious negotiations, you also need a readiness to listen to others and the firm will to put your own wishes aside. I have some doubts there.”

Juncker also pointed to Romania’s domestic divisions. There are long-running differences between President Klaus Iohannis and Liviu Dragnea, the chairman of the governing Social Democratic Party. Iohannis last month said Romania wasn’t up to the presidency. Dragnea then asked party colleagues to find a way to prosecute him for treason over those remarks. The president has since struck a more optimistic note.

Juncker was quoted as saying that Romania’s domestic situation means it can’t present itself as a “compact unit” in Europe. “There needs to be a united front at home to foster unity in Europe as well during the presidency,” he said.

Romania succeeds Austria in the EU presidency. Its six months at the helm will include Britain’s planned exit from the bloc in March and elections to the European Parliament in May. Maria Grapini, a European Parliament lawmaker with Romania’s Social Democrats, said Juncker was being “duplicitous.”

She told the private Mediafax news agency that, during a recent meeting with Romanian officials in Brussels, Juncker had said it was “clear … that Romania was up to the presidency.” “You can’t say it’s black today and tomorrow it’s white,” she said.

6 Romanian ministers fired as party leader seeks more power

November 19, 2018

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romania’s ruling Social Democratic Party fired six ministers on Monday as the beleaguered party chairman sought to tighten his grip on the government. Social Democrat chairman Liviu Dragnea has come under fire for his management style and corruption convictions, but has vowed to continue as party leader even though he can’t be prime minister because of a conviction in 2016 for vote-rigging.

During a meeting, the party voted to fire the transport, economy, labor, culture, development, sports and communication ministers. Dragnea ally Lia Olguta Vasilescu switched from the labor to the transport ministry, while the others lost their ministerial posts. The defense minister resigned earlier Monday.

Premier Viorica Dancila said the changes were necessary because “we have to respond to new challenges … both in the government and also as we (prepare) to take over the European Union presidency on Jan. 1.”

Dancila, who has little executive power, thanked the previous ministers and explained why the party’s new ministerial proposals were suitable. Dragnea who effectively runs the government said Monday’s decisions were “political and managerial.”

He was handed a 3½-year sentence in June for abuse of power in office, which he has appealed. In a boost for Dragnea, the party approved his ally, Codrin Stefanescu, as the new party secretary. He has been extremely critical about European Union commissioner Corina Cretu, a Romanian Social Democrat who has castigated the government for failing to absorb EU funds.

Earlier, Defense Minister Mihai Fifor and Bucharest Mayor Gabriela Firea resigned their positions to avoid being fired. Fifor said he would dedicate himself to helping the party win the 2020 parliamentary election.

Victor Ponta, a former prime minister and the party chairman before Dragnea, called the new government “a combination of professional incompetence, no backbone and unclean business with public money.”

Firea, who has accused Dragnea of running the party in an underhand and arbitrary manner, resigned as acting leader of the party’s Bucharest branch following reports that the party was poised to remove her. She later said she no longer held two other executive positions in the party.

“It is revenge,” she said. “Dragnea wanted to get rid of me.”

Romanians vote on putting gay marriage ban in constitution

October 06, 2018

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Two days of voting on a constitutional amendment that would make it harder to legalize same-sex marriage have gotten started in Romania. A conservative group initiated the referendum being held on Saturday and Sunday, and the influential Romanian Orthodox Church is backing it.

The proposed amendment would revise the definition of family in the Constitution of Romania to make marriage “a union between a man and a woman” instead of “a union between spouses.” Romanian law already prohibits same-sex marriages. Opponents say the new constitutional language is a mean-spirited attempt to make LGBT people feel more like second-class citizens and also could marginalize households led by single parents or unmarried couples raising children.

The referendum requires a 30 percent turnout of registered voters to be valid. The proposed change would prevent any attempt to legalize same-sex marriage through legislation. The vote came about after the Coalition for Family submitted a petition with 3 million signatures proposing for the constitution to be amended. The group said it was concerned young Romanians were learning about so-called “non-traditional” family arrangements in school.

Gay rights groups say the constitutional revision could encourage homophobia by further promoting the view that only opposite-sex marriages are legitimate and same-sex relationships are unworthy of recognition or protection.

At a rally this week in southern Romania, Orthodox Bishop Sebastian Pascanu told believers that homosexuality was an “abnormality that first appeared in Western countries.” “This abnormality needs therapy, treatment rather than special laws like the ones that have different sexual orientations would like to have.”

But others, like Marcel Badea, an electrician who lives in a southern Romanian village on the River Danube, said he’d boycott the vote. “I am (already) a husband, a father and grandfather, I have nothing to vote for,” he said. “I don’t need this referendum. Even if I vote ‘no,’ I will help the referendum get the turnout it needs.”

Romanian ex-prison chief sentenced to 20 years dies in jail

September 26, 2018

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Ion Ficior, who was incarcerated for the deaths of 103 political inmates while in charge of a communist-era labor camp in Romania, has died. He was 90. Ficior died Wednesday at Jilava prison hospital, according to Bianca Filote, spokeswoman for the government Institute for Investigating the Crimes of Communism. The institute began to pursue Ficior and other former prison guards in 2013 in a bid to make them finally accountable for wrongdoing during the communist era, handing over evidence to prosecutors.

Prison hospital spokeswoman Denisa Ene confirmed to The Associated Press that a prisoner, suffering various chronic medical conditions, had died Wednesday morning, but declined to provide further details, citing privacy rules.

Ficior was serving a 20-year sentence there for crimes against humanity. He was imprisoned in March 2017, but denied wrongdoing and said he was merely following orders. But Andrei Muraru, who initiated the investigation of Ficior, said he “showed a complete lack of mercy toward his victims, who endured prolonged suffering, were skeletal inmates, or defenseless elderly people,” he told the AP.

“They were subjected to a diabolic program of extermination through exhausting work, hunger and physical torture,” said Muraru, now an adviser to President Klaus Iohannis. Ficior was commander at the Periprava labor camp from 1958 to 1963. During his trial, former detainees accused him of beatings, a lack of food and medicine, overwork and unheated cells.

In an interview with the AP in 2013 before he was charged with more than 100 deaths, Ficior claimed “two or three had died” while he was prison commander. Romania had about 500,000 political prisoners under the Communist regime, about one-fifth of whom died while in detention, according to historians. Many were locked up for merely falling afoul of the communist regime. A general amnesty was granted to political prisoners in 1964.

Ficior is survived by a son.

Romania ruling party endorses embattled party chief

September 21, 2018

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romania’s ruling Social Democratic Party on Friday endorsed its chairman despite his recent conviction for abuse of power. Colleagues had called for Liviu Dragnea to step down, but party members voted in support of Dragnea, who is barred from becoming prime minister because of a 2016 conviction for electoral fraud.

There were conflicting figures about the vote tally Friday, which came after an eight-hour meeting. Dragnea later vowed he would do all he could to “destroy… this odious system” of what he calls “the parallel state,” which he thinks has too much power. Those institutions include an anti-corruption movement, Romania’s secret services, the anti-corruption prosecutors agency and President Klaus Iohannis, a political rival.

However, Dragnea indicated that he would allow more autonomy for the Romanian government, which has been under party control. In June, Dragnea was convicted of abuse of power in office and sentenced to 3½ years in prison. Party colleagues say he should be considered innocent pending a final ruling.

One ally, Marian Oprisan, said he didn’t recognize that conviction, labeling it “political.” Despite that conviction and the court case, Dragnea retains a tight grip on the party he has ruled since 2015.

In a letter this week, three leading party officials, including Bucharest mayor Gabriela Firea, urged him to step down. Tensions have grown in the party since an anti-corruption protest directed against the Romanian government last month left 450 people injured.

Romanians have held many anti-corruption protests since the Social Democrats won power in 2016 and embarked on a contentious judicial overhaul that critics say will make it harder to prosecute cases of high-level corruption.

Romania parliament votes in favor of man/woman marriage only

September 12, 2018

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romanian Senators approved a measure that could pave the way for the constitution to be changed to explicitly state that marriage is a union of a man and a woman. Senators on Tuesday voted 107-13 with seven abstentions to allow a referendum that could change the constitution, which currently states that marriage is a union between “spouses.” The vote comes after Parliament’s Chamber of Deputies last year overwhelmingly approved the same measure.

The vote comes after 3 million Romanians signed a petition demanding that the constitution be changed to redefine marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Social Democrat chairman Liviu Dragnea has indicated Romania will hold a referendum on the issue in October.

A senator for the ruling Social Democratic Party, Serban Nicolae, said the vote was on religious grounds: “we’ve been a Christian nation for 2,000 years.” Accept, a Romanian group that fights for equality for same-sex couples, condemned the vote, accusing the Senate of “raising homophobia to state value and sacrificing constitutional protection for many families.”

While the ruling could limit the definition of marriage, it would not preclude a law that would recognize same-sex civil partnerships. Romania, along with Poland, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Lithuania and Latvia, doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage or offer legal protection to same-sex couples.

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