Iliescu Rides Communist Nostalgia Wave

Former Romanian president Ion Iliescu may be swept back into power on a wave of nostalgia for the Communist era.

Iliescu Rides Communist Nostalgia Wave

Former Romanian president Ion Iliescu may be swept back into power on a wave of nostalgia for the Communist era.

Tuesday, 6 September, 2005

If recent opinion polls are any indicator, Romanian voters want to turn back the clock.

The country's continued economic and social problem together with disappointment and apathy over the centrist government's reforms are prompting many to long for the security and certainties of the Communist period.

The electorate's nostalgia for the past is reflected in growing backing for former Communist politicians, contesting parliamentary and presidential elections on November 26.

Ion Iliescu, the country's first post-revolution president and one-time Communist, currently scores 47 per cent in public opinions polls. His main opponent in the presidential race, Prime Minister Mugur Isarescu, registers a mere 15 per cent.

Likewise Iliescu's opposition Social Democrat Party, PDSR, looks set to clinch 52 per cent of the parliamentary vote. The parties from the present ruling coalition - the Liberals, the Democrats and the Christian Democrat-led alliance - together look set to win only 27 per cent.

The November elections come at a time of widespread poverty and economic uncertainty. The four-year-old centre-right coalition government has presided over a catastrophic economic collapse.

Romania's infrastructure disintegrated, while hoped for foreign investment failed to materialise. Amidst the mounting disaster, the coalition partners responded by bickering endlessly.

Latest official figures estimate 40 per cent of Romanians now live below the poverty line, earning less than $30 a month.

"Four years of economic contraction and the rising inequality in the distribution of income are main factors behind the alarming growth of poverty," said sociologist Alina Mungiu, president of non-governmental organization Romanian Academic Society, SAR. "In such circumstances, it is hardly surprising people are nostalgic about Communist times."

A recent SAR poll found that over 80 per cent of Romanians think the economy was better under Communism. Only 23 per cent of those surveyed said they thought themselves better off today.

Even the political leaders from the ruling coalition are pessimistic about the country's prospects. On October 24, Isarescu said the country would not be ready to join the European Union, EU, before 2007 and that much had to be achieved in the meantime.

Isarescu's remark came in response to a statement by EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenther Verheugen who said Romania and Bulgaria would not be able to meet EU economic standards before 2005 at the earliest - years after other former Communist countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary.

Acknowledgement that EU membership could be years off has prompted some local observers to worry that Romania could start to look East once again, to its former ally Russia.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov visited Bucharest in October to discuss diplomatic and economic ties, especially in the transport and energy sectors.

Experts from the two countries are expected to resume talks soon on a bilateral treaty. But two thorny issues are yet to be resolved. Most sensitive is Romania's insistence the text should include reference to Moscow's seizure of Romanian territory, the present-day Republic of Moldova, under the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939. Bucharest also claims Moscow still holds gold and national treasures shipped to Russia for safekeeping during World War One.

Journalist Vladimir Alexe from the daily newspaper Romania Libera believes the November elections should bring a shift in the country's foreign policy "bearing in mind Ion Iliescu and his party's past", a reference to allegedly close links with Moscow maintained by the former president during his tenure.

Iliescu denies the rumours he had a hotline to the Kremlin or secret ties with Moscow. He also denies allegations he breached the oil embargo against Yugoslavia imposed by the United Nations in 1992. (See BCR No. 156)

Throughout the election campaign, the 70-year old Iliescu and the PDSR have stressed they support future EU membership for Romania and on-going efforts to bring the country into the NATO military alliance.

But Iliescu has vowed to create a "climate of solidarity and work" in the impoverished country and has insisted "positive elements" from the past should be preserved. During his last term as president, Iliescu was criticised for failing to develop democracy or to reform Romania's creaking state-controlled economy.

Marian Chiriac is news editor at the MediaFax News Agency in Bucharest and editor of Foreign Policy, a quarterly published by the Romanian Academic Society

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