Capital Bucureşti
Time Zone EEST (GMT+2)
Country Code 40
Mobile Codes 71,72,73,74,75,76,77,78
ccTLD .ro
Currency Leu nou (1EUR = 4.1 RON)
Land Area 238,391 sq km
Population 22 million
Language Romanian
Major Religion Orthodox Christianity

Romania’s Winter 2017 Protests: Behind the Power Struggle of the Secret Services, Politicians, and Soros NGOs editor’s note: George Soros’ web of intrigue is coming under increasing scrutiny, from America to Eastern Europe. Yet while it is commonly believed Soros only supports leftist causes, the case of Romania shows that his political support can change to match his unclear interests.

This exclusive analysis reveals how, while retaining his traditional method of infiltrating the judiciary and government through NGOs, Soros in Romania is also active in politics and the deep-state struggles in which officials, secret agents, businessmen and anti-corruption interests converge.

By Elena Dragomir

In the beginning of 2017, Romania witnessed a series of anti-government protests. These were generally depicted as manifesting civic opposition to a corrupt government trying to end Romania’s fight against corruption.

A closer investigation, however, reveals that this thesis does not seem to stand and a new hypothesis is more likely; this would suggest that Romania’s recent protests actually represent a fierce struggle for power between the state secret services and Romania’s president, Klaus Johannis, on the one side, and the political coalition that won the last parliamentary elections in December 2016 (PSD-ALDE), on the other. The political and secret service-supported protests were also fueled by persons and entities close to various NGOs associated with Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros.

Further, the political dimensions of the protests also reveal that George Soros retains strong influence in Romania, even though here he is not on the “side” he usually plays (i.e., the left-wing parties). As elsewhere in Eastern Europe, it thus seems that the billionaire has allied with elements of the Romanian secret services and prosecution – key actors in the country’s ‘deep state’ – for his own unclear purposes.

We will discuss the protests and this activity towards the end of this analysis. But first it is necessary to outline the structural problems affecting the Romanian secret services and especially, the role of the state bodies investigating corruption cases.

A Structural Problem: No Democratic Control over the Secret Services of Romania

Despite some public debate, in its 26 years since the collapse of the socialist system, Romania could not reform its secret services, which continued to grow unabatedly, outside of any real democratic control.

During the last years, more and more controversies have occurred publicly with regard to the secret services’ involvement in media, businesses, politics and the judicial system. While the current Romanian legislation forbids the secret services from having any interference in politics and judiciary, no law is actually broken when media is infiltrated or when the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) establishes its own covert commercial companies, NGOs, foundations or associations.

Although not illegal, as Adrian Țuțuianu, the president of the current parliamentary commission for the control of the SRI recently declared, the presence of undercover agents in newspapers offices was often linked to the SRI’s involvement in politics and press freedom limitations. In 2012, for instance, one of the four chief-editors of the Romanian newspaper Jurnalul Național was uncovered as an SRI agent whose mission was not only to monitor what happened in the newspaper’s office, but to gather information on the sources of documentation used in ‘sensible’ articles and to influence its editorial policy.

A Recent Scandal

A recent scandal seemed to confirm rumors and speculations that some media have claimed for years. Sebastian Ghiță and Elena Udrea, two very controversial members of the former Romanian parliament, publicly declared that SRI systematically acted to control newspapers and to pull down TV stations that were critical of particular politicians (specifically, of former president Traian Băsescu). According to these two, the main instrument used to take down political adversaries was through the so-called anti-corruption fight, carried out by the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA), working very closely with the SRI.

Sebastian Ghiță, now on the run, was often accused by the media of being an undercover SRI agent himself, or at least an SRI agent of influence. He was a member in the former parliamentary commission for the control of the SRI, and the owner of several companies- allegedly, SRI covert businesses. It is, however, legal for SRI to own and operate its covert commercial companies, as it is legal to own covert NGOs, associations, foundations. In 2013, ten MPs from the National Liberal Party initiated a law for the abolishment of all commercial companies, NGOS, associations and foundations owned by the SRI, in part or entirely, directly or through intermediaries.

Three parliamentary commissions opposed the proposal then. Now, Sebastian Ghiță has disappeared, being accused of corruption by the DNA in several criminal cases. He was also involved in a series of revelations that ended in January 2017 with the suspension and investigation of general Florian Coldea, First Deputy Director of the SRI.

Romanian Deep State- Spies in Parliament

As already noted, different MPs were suspected of being if not secret agents, at least agents of influence of the SRI. Such MPs were supposed to block laws and initiatives unwanted by the SRI, limit or block any democratic control by the parliament over the SRI, support political groups favored by the SRI, increase the SRI’s annual budgets and so on. Journalists emphasize that the SRI’s agents infiltrated not only the media or the Parliament, but also governmental agencies, such as the National Agency for Fiscal Administration.

Such accusations have been repeatedly denied by the SRI and, given the secrecy that inherently characterizes the secret services sector, it is very difficult to have access to reliable evidence and information. Still, in this house of mirrors, there are some very clear facts, including the one that no post-communist parliament or government has ever initiated an effective reform within the security sector. Thus, the question ‘who’s controlling who’ has never been convincingly answered.

Reasons for the Current Situation

Media often speculate that politicians seem to be terrified that they could be criminally investigated by the DNA, should they pass laws that might displease the SRI or the DNA. The same fear also seems to affect the judicial system, according to some reports pointing to judges being arrested by the DNA when they ruled against it.

In this context, several professional organizations of magistrates have asked more than once for “clarifications” on the involvement of the secret services in the judicial system. They have pointed, for instance, at how the SRI is illegally used during criminal investigations, or at the existence of secret agents illegally infiltrated among magistrates.

A (Not So) Democratic and Transparent Fight against Corruption

Every year, the DNA proudly reports tremendous success in its fight against corruption. The more politicians and judges arrested and imprisoned, the better for the fight against corruption.  In 2016, for instance, Laura Codruța Kovesi reported that DNA obtained, the previous year, convictions in over 90% of its cases and that DNA in 2015 filed complaints and indicted one prime minister, five ministers, 67 deputies, five members of the Senate, 97 mayors and deputy mayors, among others.

International media, as well as American and European institutions, all seem to gullibly believe such numbers and reports. They consider Kovesi a ‘crusader against corruption’- despite the fact that such a high percentage should raise considerable suspicions. On 23 February 2017, DNA reported that in 2016 it had indicted 1,270 defendants, of which one-quarter were charged with abuse of office, with a total damage of $260m.

Dana Gârbovan, however, the president of the National Union of Judges in Romania, argues that such numbers are greatly exaggerated while the methods used to reach them remain highly problematic.

 Foreign Perceptions of Corruption

A widely spread public perception, both domestically and abroad, is that Romania was and is the most corrupt (Eastern) European country. Therefore, its European and American partners have constantly asked Romania for more and more proof of its commitment to the anti-corruption fight; presumably, this fight cannot look genuine and successful, unless the DNA reports thousands of arrests and convictions. However, in this context, new threats seem to take form:

  • the fight against corruption appears to have been carried out, far too often, through illegal, unconstitutional means, with little respect for human rights;
  • the anti-corruption crusaders seem to have their own very dark spots;
  • the Romanians’ trust in the DNA and the judiciary in general is constantly decreasing.

Any honest person looking at this picture will see more questions than answers. Are all criminal cases under DNA’s investigation genuine cases of corruption, or is the anti-corruption narrative being used as a pretext to put down adversaries, including or especially political ones? Is Romania, with its politicians and institutions, as corrupt as the DNA reports, or does the DNA itself have a less visible agenda? How does this fit into the mainstream narrative of Romania’s corrupt past, present and future?

The Struggle against Corruption, Sometimes Fought with Illegal Means                     

Examples exist to suggest that illegal methods have been used by the Romanian authorities in order to pursue corruption cases. In January 2017, the National Union of Judges in Romania published the point of view of the Department of the National Security within Romania’s Presidential Administration with regard to the SRI’s activity in the judicial system and to the fight against corruption.  According to this document, the Presidential Administration admits that during the last 12 years the Supreme Council of National Defense in Romania (CSAT) made (secret) decisions that allowed, facilitated and enlarged the implication of the secret services in the fight against corruption, outside the existent legal framework.

Arguing that the laws of the security sector were too old and outdated and that corruption was a matter of national security, CSAT ‘completed’ the current legislation with secret decisions. Thus, as reports, since 2005, the fight against corruptions has been fought by quasi-legal means and without sufficient transparency, while the legislation in the anti-corruption field was de facto adopted outside the legal framework, in secrecy and independently of the laws in force.

There is an apparent striking contradiction here. On the one hand, Romania had a series of Parliaments which during the last two decades were unable, unwilling or simply not allowed to reform the security legislation in the country while, on the other hand, Romania’s security structures complain of the existing outdated legislation. This perceived lack, they say, requires the issuing of additional secret rules within CSAT.

A second example illustrating how extra-legal means are used involves a recent meeting of the Supreme Council of Magistracy, Romania’s General Prosecutor, Augustin Lazăr admitted that a secret protocol was concluded between the SRI and DNA, according to which joint teams of DNA prosecutors and SRI agents have investigated together criminal cases; the law, however, explicitly forbids such practices.

The DNA has repeatedly denied such accusations, while the SRI declared that there is no protocol between the SRI and the DNA. There are, however, perfectly legal protocols that have been concluded between the SRI and other institutions, the SRI’s spokesman said. The website, however, continues to present evidence suggesting that such a protocol did exist, being concluded on 4 February 2009.

A third example of this trend involves a decision made by Romania’s Constitutional Court from March 2016, which admitted that SRI illegally intercepted people’s conversations. The Court ruled that such a practice might end and that the DNA cannot base its criminal cases on such evidence that was illegally obtained by the SRI and provided by the SRI to the DNA.

The Anti-corruption Crusaders Have Their Own Problems

Laura Codruța Kovesi served as Romania’s Prosecutor General between 2006 and 2012. Since 2013, she has been chief prosecutor at the DNA. She was caught up in an odd sort of European scandal that is not taken as seriously in other countries: plagiarism. She was accused of plagiarizing her PhD dissertation in Law, a charge that resulted in an inconclusive finding by a Ministry of commission. It decided that just 4% of the whole thesis was lifted, though the scientific quality of the work was sub-par. For many Romanians, it was ironic that such an individual was also a crusader in the fight against corruption.

Moreover, the results of the DNA do not seem so spectacular at a closer investigation. As reported, 60% of the convictions obtained by the DNA in 2015 were in fact suspended sentences, while 10-12% of its criminal cases in that year ended with acquittals in court. According to, in 2016, DNA managed to reach the counter performance of getting 109 acquittals in 51 days, most of which were due to a lack of evidence. Moreover, many of the DNA criminal cases were based on abuse of office or other charges which are rather vaguely defined by the current legislation.

More than once, CEDO reversed decisions by Romanian courts in DNA cases. One recent example is that of the mayor of Râmnicu Vâlcea. He had been accused by DNA of bribery and was sentenced to three years and six months of prison. In 2016 this mayor, Mircea Gutău, was acquitted by CEDO on the grounds that his right to a fair trial was not respected. This DNA case was based on a transcript which CEDO dismissed as falsified by the DNA investigators.

The DNA relies extensively on wiretapping and covert filming. Thus, far too many times, the DNA was accused of abusive or illegal investigative methods and of infringing on human rights, including people’s presumption of innocence. Suspects in corruption cases are paraded in front of the TV cameras in handcuffs, publicly accused and compromised. Their carriers are ruined as are their families, and after many years of trials, a court rules that there is no evidence supporting the DNA accusations and the case ends with an acquittal. Given the examples above, one additional question arises: is the war against corruption a form of corruption itself, if or when it is waged by illegal means?

How Corruption Insinuations Affected the New Head of State

This general trend and practice has also manifested in political life. Klaus Johannis himself was unable to convincingly explain the source of his fortune. In 2015, Rice Project revealed that “most of the real estate property owned by the family of Romanian President Klaus Iohannis was obtained as a result of property restitution based on forged documents”. After a trial that lasted 15 years, in February 2017, a Romanian Court of Appeals ruled against the Johannis family, which irrevocably lost the property obtained through forged documents. How does this personal experience fit into Johannis’ anticorruption narrative? 

A Weak and Fluid Political Class

While the mainstream narrative (especially abroad) sees the DNA as Romania’s only non-corrupt entity, much of the result of the last parliamentary elections on 11 December 2016 can be explained by the people’s increasing lack of trust in the DNA and its investigative methods against corruption, as well as by the people’s suspicions towards the involvement of the SRI in their lives.

The elections resulted in a 39.44% turnout, with the Social Democratic Party (PSD) obtaining 45.48% of votes and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE) 5.62%. PSD and ALDE formed a parliamentary majority and after some delay caused by President Johannis, the Sorin Grindeanu cabinet was sworn in on 4 January 2017. The opposition parties obtained the next-best results in elections: the National Liberal Party (PNL) with 20% of the votes, the Union Save Romania (USR) with 8.87%, and the People’s Movement’s Party (PMR) with 5.35%.

On 18 January 2017, president Johannis publicly announced the cabinet’s alleged intention to pass in secret two emergency ordinance bills – one designed to change the Penal Code in relation to the decriminalization of abuse of office, and the other in relation to granting pardons to thousands of convicted criminals. The Minister of Justice published the bills on its website and sent them to several judicial institutions for consultation.

A Problem of DNA

The DNA, as well as the High Court of Cassation and Justice, the Superior Council of the Magistracy and the Public Prosecutor’s Office issued negative opinions, a result that may or may have not been influenced by public pressure. President Johannis publicly argued that the bills were the attempt of a corrupted political party to dismantle the fight against corruption and to release from prison its convicted members. In reaction, protests were sparked around the country; international media presented it as the largest in Romania’s history, numbering between 25,000 people (in its first day, 18 January) and 500,000-600,000 people (at its peak, on 5 February). The move by the Grindeanu Cabinet was criticized, both in Romania and abroad, along the following lines:

This narrative was presented in a series of Romanian and international mainstream (online) newspapers and news agencies, such as,, Reuters,, The Guardian, New York TimesDeutsche Welle etc. In short, this narrative says that a corrupt government (backed by a corrupt parliament) tries to secretly change the legislation in order to avoid its own criminal prosecution for acts of corruption and to pardon criminals already convicted for corruption.

Legal Debate, the Need for Reforms and Protests

The legal debate regarding the real meaning and the legal consequences of these two bills got fierce. The cabinet argued that such accusations were false and more or less great specialists in law debated for both sides.

On 5 February, under the pressure of the continuous protests, the cabinet revoked the original ordinance, and on 8 February the minister of justice resigned.

A reform of the penal legislation in Romania is badly needed. The PSD-ALDE coalition won the election, but seemed to be unable to govern, for reasons involving both its intrinsic weaknesses and the pressure (if not control) exercised by some covert forces.

The appointed head of the parliamentary commission for the control of the SRI, Adrian Țuțuianu declared that the commission aims to eliminate the public perceptions that the members of the commission were merely spokesmen for the SRI, and to bring evidence to the public that the commission actually controls the SRI. In the light of this declaration it seems that there is no danger for this commission to convincingly investigate the SRI’s alleged illegal working relationship with the DNA, its alleged illegal activities and their impact on human rights, its involvement in politics or in the judiciary. It seems also rather unlikely for this parliament to be able to reform the security sector, to control and limit the SRI or the DNA’s reported abuses, and to reestablish the supremacy of the law and of human rights.

 What about the 2017 Anti-government Protests?         

Despite the mainstream narrative, there is consistent evidence supporting the idea that the protests were political in nature and that the secret services and the DNA may have not been completely innocent as far as the protests were concerned.

During the protests, the DNA publicly announced that the Grindeanu bills undermine the anti-corruption fight, as they were intended to release from prison convicted criminals and to cease ongoing criminal investigations involving corrupt politicians. According to Romanian law, the government is entitled to issue emergency bills but, arguing that the measures taken by the Grindeanu Cabinet ‘were not opportune’, the DNA opened an investigation into how the bills were adopted. Since then, different ministers of the cabinet have been summoned to the DNA headquarters to give explanations in this regard. On every such occasion they are paraded in front of the TV cameras.

On 27 February, Romania’s Constitutional Court (CCR) ruled that the DNA had exceeded its constitutional restrictions with the investigation of the legality and opportunity of the Grindeanu Cabinet’s ordinance bill. DNA breached the separation of powers principle, according to the CCR’s ruling. By 1 March, an anti-CCR campaign was already launched. A small but increasing part of the online media says that the CCR ruling is ‘controversial’, ‘strange’, and designed ‘to protect as much as possible the any-Justice attempt’ by the Grindeanu Cabinet. There are also voices trying to compromise the judges of the Romanian Constitutional Court, looking for so called evidence of their corruption and dubious links with the PSD.

Different Facebook accounts announced protests around the country for the evening of 5 March, against the CCR’s ruling in support of the DNA and its anticorruption crusade. For Bucharest, the protests were announced to take place in front of the government and parliament buildings. Thus, it seems that the allegation that there is no institution able or capable of limiting, amending, correcting or punishing the DNA abuses is just about correct. Anybody that attempts to state or correct the DNA’s misconduct ends up being accused of being corrupt, of opposing the DNA’s anti-corruption struggle and of being hand in hand with the PSD.

SRI Denies Involvement

The media speculated as well on the SRI’s involvement in the anti-governmental protests, pointing to the fact that the secret service has the right to own covert NGO’s, for instance. But the SRI denied any involvement. It has been also speculated that SRI supported the USR, during the election, while the USR was one of the political parties that instigated the protests to take action against the cabinet. USR is led by Nicușor Dan, former head of the NGO Save Bucharest (an association financed by George Soros).

The speculations were similarly denied by both the SRI and the USR. Speculations have been voiced regarding the SRI’s role in Klaus Johannis’ election as Romania’s president in 2014, against the PSD candidate Victor Ponta. Such speculations were also rejected. After the election, prime minister Ponta was indicted by the DNA, charged with falsifying documents, tax evasion and money laundering.

Political Protests as an Extension of Election Defeat

The political character of the protest was clearko. The leaders of the parliamentary opposition parties (PNL, USR) have been repeatedly seen among the protesters, asking for the bills to be revoked, for the resignation of the entire cabinet and even for snap parliamentary elections. Members of the former technocratic cabinet headed by Dacian Cioloș (which supported the PNL during the election campaign) were also repeatedly seen in Victoriei Square, among the protesters, as was Romania’s President Klaus Johannis on 22 of January. All of the above participants incited people to protest against the allegedly corrupt government and parliament.

The presence of the parties that lost the 2016 elections in Victoriei Square, as well as their request for the resignation of the cabinet and for snap elections prove the political character of the protests, in the opinion of many. Moreover, according to an opinion poll, 83% of the protesters against the Grindeanu Cabinet did participate in the 11 December election, while over 80% of them placed themselves on the right and center of the political spectrum.

The same opinion poll indicated that the protesters perceive the PSD as the most corrupt political party. This suggests that the majority of the protesters voted during the elections with the current political opposition and that the protests were a delayed reaction to losing the elections in December 2016.

While the international media pointed to the anti-corruption and pro-justice slogans chanted during the protests, around the country many slogans were political. Protesters asked for the imprisonment of the entire government and parliament, for the DNA to ‘come and take’ them all, as they were all ‘thieves’, they also uttered terrible obscenities to the government and parliament members, but especially to the PSD and its leaders. The PSD was also called ‘the red plague’ – as an indication to its alleged links with the communist past older demographic. All these are elements pointing not only to the political character of the protests, but also to their anti-PSD nature.

As Horațiu Pepine convincingly puts it, the protests seem to have been a delayed reaction to the victory of the PSD in the 11 December elections, a delayed mimicking of the anti-Trump protests in the USA, but also a movement of the young generation, while the Grindeanu bills represented just an occasion, not to say a pretext. Moreover, in the context of the last elections being won by the PSD, the rather young protesters (22 to 39 years old, according to the above mentioned opinion poll) fear that the country will champion a less liberal economic policy.

NGOs, Social Media and the Protests: the Soros Connection

Thus, these protests were not as civic, apolitical and spontaneous as some reported. As already mentioned, on the one hand, there were political parties and leaders that urged and organized people to protest. On the other hand, there were a series of NGOs involved in this process. And both used to a great extent the online social media (especially Facebook) to reach their goal.

The following example reveals to some extent the implication of some NGOs in the organizing of the protests. For instance, in the preparation of the protests on 29 January, over 200,000 people received an email from the owner of the online platform, announcing protests both in Romania and in the diaspora.

According to Eugen Dinu, this platform was created with the financial support of the ‘Foundation ONG Romania’ which is operated by the Foundation of the Development of the Civic Society (FDSC). In 2016, FDSC, whose president is Ionuț Sibian, received over $1.1mn from George Soros. Between 2006 and 2012, FDSC received another over $1mn from The Trust for Civil Society in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE Trust), led by Soros. Sibian’s NGO was also linked to the fall of the Victor Ponta PSD cabinet in late 2015, as was President Johanis.

Soros in Romania since the End of Communism

Between 1990 and 2014, George Soros financed in Romania projects of about $160mn through a network of NGOs and cultural centers– many of which have been involved in the monitoring of the Romanian justice system and human rights.

Many of the Romanian foundations financed by Soros were very vocal and active in the anti-corruption fight arena, such as Foundation of the Development of the Civic Society (Ionuț Sibian), Apador CH (Monica Macovei), the GDS (Andrei Cornea), Freedom House (Cristina Guseth), Save Bucharest Association (Nicușor Dan), as well as Expert Forum (Sorin Ioniță and Laura Ștefan).

Some of these activists are very vocal outside Romania too. Monica Macovei is already famous for her stance on Romania’s alleged corruption in the European Parliament, while Laura Ștefan was interviewed on the theme by Al Jazeera, to give only two examples. Laura Pralog, councilor of the Romanian president Klaus Johannis – and also representative of the Open Society Foundation in Romania – was also one of the anti corruption activists financed by Soros.

The Romanian Center for European Policies, an NGO run by Critian Ghinea  was also financed by George Soros. According to some reports, since 2012, Ghinea’s NGO received hundreds of thousands of euros from the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to represent Romania’s interests in Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine in connection to NATO’s policy there. Ghinea was also Romania’s Minister for European Funds in the Cioloș Cabinet.


Some commentators saw not only a significant link between Soros and the protests in Romania, but also significant and suspicious similarities between the involvement of such NGOs in the protests in Romania in 2017 and the implication of similar NGOs’ in protests in Belgrade or Kiev.

In the middle of the speculation about Soros’ connection to the 2017 Romanian anti-government protests and in the general contexts of the global scandal involving Soros, in February 2017, the Romanian branch of the Soros Foundation was closed.

There were, however, also ordinary people taking part in the protests, genuinely convinced that Romania’s anti-corruption quest was at stake. Secretly, the protests were supported, guided, organized and encouraged by NGO’s, by the political opposition, by the Romanian president, and by the DNA. In this context, the conclusion of Roger Boyes in The Times seems just about right:

“Romania’s deep, ­secret state (…) has used the issue of corruption to settle scores with its enemies, erode basic rights and institutionalize a sinister connection between the judiciary, the ­secret police and the anti-corruption units.”

The Media vs. Historical Accuracy: How Romania’s Current Communist Trials Are Being Misrepresented Editor’s note: since the fall of 2014, Romania has received new foreign media attention over a trial that has rekindled interest in the country’s Communist past. However, in so doing, the media has also tended to exaggerate and misrepresent the current proceedings and their significance- and thus has failed to note how Romanian authorities in recent years have actually displayed a general disinterest and incompetence in regards to investigating and prosecuting the crimes of the former communist governments.

The following analysis, written by two leading researchers in the field of Cold-War Romanian affairs, sheds new light on the current trial, in the context of its deeper historical context, and its implications for current politics and future interest in addressing communist-era crimes against the Romanian people.

By Elena Dragomir and Mircea Stănescu*

Political Persecutions in Communist Romania

The communist regime in Romania was established between 1944 and 1948, in the aftermath of the Second World War, under the new circumstances of Romania’s placement within the Soviet sphere of influence. The newly established communist-led regime rapidly initiated merciless repression campaigns, targeting the current or former so-called enemies of the people – former leaders or members of Romania’s historical political parties, former officers in the Romanian army, ethnic or religious minorities, industrialists (seen as former exploiters of the poor), so-called collaborators of the previous political regime, former ministers, diplomats, academics, economists, historians, journalists and so on.

The cumulative result was that by the end of the 1950s, hundreds of thousands of people had been arrested, deported or incarcerated for political reasons, without any concern for respect of the most elementary human rights.

A police state, the communist-led Romania used a range of security forces – secret police, militia/regular police, civilian informants and spies to enforce its authority. The security forces arrested, detained, tortured and even murdered “suspects” for no reason, often without having a warrant or a court order, and often without informing families about what happened to their disappeared loved ones. Assassination, kidnapping and torture were instrumentally used by the secret police to prevent, investigate or punish (real or imagined) opposition. Opponents were incarcerated in prisons, concentration camps and (later) psychiatric hospitals, with or without a court order.

Political Prisons and Labor Camps in Communist Romania: Statistical Data

According to one scholarly estimate, between 1948 and 1964, Romania operated over 130 political prisons and camps; other estimates have it at over 200. These camps held over 600,000 political detainees. Adding to this the deportees and the political detainees of the period 1964-1989, the number reached 780,000 persons (for the period 1948-1989).

According to other scholarly estimates, during the cumulative period (1948-1989), over 2,000,000 people were victims of the Romanian Communist system, detained for political reasons in prisons, labor camps, deportation centers or psychiatric facilities (for more information, see Comisia Prezidenţială pentru Analiza Dictaturii Comuniste în Romania, Raport final, Bucureşti, 2006, 160-161).

Among the most notorious and infamous Romanian political prisons and labor camps were those in Suceava, Jilava, Piteşti, Gherla, Sighet, Aiud, Târgu Ocna, Poarta Albă, Peninsula, Periprava, Cernavodă, Mislea and Râmnicu Sărat. The living and working conditions in such labor camps and prisons were very harsh. Working quotas were continuously increased and food rations cut, while medical care and supplies were virtually non-existent.

Food shortages, a lack of medical care, cold weather and physical abuse of prisoners all contributed to high mortality rates. Documents from the archive of the communist Ministry of Interior attest 3,847 deaths in detention for the period between 1945 and 1965, of which 203 died during interrogation, 2,851 during detention, 137 were executed following a death sentence, and 656 while in forced labor camps.

However, these numbers are just a small fraction of the true number of fatalities; it is impossible to estimate how many political detainees actually died, because the officials at these facilities usually did not keep records. They also simply erased a number of prisoner deaths from their official records.

The ‘Piteşti Experiment’ and Vișinescu’s ‘Prison of Silence’

One of the most notorious and infamous brainwashing experiments in Eastern Europe’s history took place in Romania, in the political prison of Piteşti, a small town, about 120km northwest of Bucharest. This prison is infamous in Romania still for the so-called the ‘Piteşti experiment’ or Piteşti phenomenon, conducted there between 1949 and 1952.

The experiment aimed to ‘reeducate’ the (real or imagined) opponents of the regime. It involved psychological and physical torture of prisoners, and the submission of them to humiliating, degrading and dehumanizing acts. Tens of people died in this ‘experiment’, but its aim was not to kill the people, but to ‘reeducate’ them.

Some of those who were thus ‘reeducated’ later became torturers themselves. Of those who survived Piteşti, many either took their own lives or ended up in mental institutions (for more information, see Mircea Stănescu, Reeducare în România comunisă, Polirom, Iaşi, Vol. I: 2010, Vol. II:2010, vol. III: 2012).

The Râmnicu Sărat prison was another infamous place in the Romanian political detention system. This prison, which is now being remembered with the media-cited trial of its former commander, Alexandru Vișinescu, remains in the collective memory as the ‘prison of silence.’ Prison rules stated that between 5am and 10pm, the prisoners (who were kept in solitary confinement) were forbidden to lie in bed, and were instead forced to stand or sit without moving, facing the cell door. They were forbidden to make any noise, to speak with other prisoners or with guards- essentially, they were not allowed to speak unless spoken to. They were even not allowed to look out the window.

Any ‘mistake’ or ‘misbehavior’ would result in severe punishment, often, under the direct supervision of the prison’s commander, Alexandru Vișinescu. These unlucky prisoners might be beaten, tortured, kept in severe cold, and deprived of medical care or food.

Alexandru Vișinescu: Short Biography of a Notorious Prison Commander

Alexandru Vișinescu was born into a very poor village family in 1925. This background meant that he was of what the Romanian Communist Party deemed ‘healthy social origins.’ In 1948, he completed his mandatory military service, by working in the Securitate (the secret police agency) and Militia (the civilian police) forces.

Later, Vișinescu was hired full-time by the Securitate, and in January, February and March 1950 he was trained to become a political officer for work in prisons and labor camps. During this training, Vișinescu became familiar with the state’s Piteşti-type ‘reeducation’ methods. After graduating, he was appointed political officer at the Jilava prison, where he served between 1950 and 1953, and where he carried out Piteşti-type tortures against detainees.

Jilava was a multi-faceted detention facility. It served as a prison of transit, as a center where the death sentences of political prisoners were carried out, as a place where political sentences were served, as a school for prison guards, as a place of torture and of ‘reeducation’, where political detainees were forced to expose (demascare, in Romanian) the ‘misdeeds’ of themselves and others.

In 1953 and 1954, Alexandru Vișinescu was sent to work as political officer at the women’s prison in Mislea. There, he forced the prisoners to do things like get naked and jump like frogs, a torture that had origins in Piteşti re-education-methods, and that aimed to physically and especially psychologically crush the detainees. Between 1954 and 1956, Vișinescu was a political officer at the Râmnicu Sărat prison and later (1956-1963) commander of the same facility.

Scholars consider that, at the Râmnicu Sărat prison, Vișinescu employed one of the worst detention regimes known in Communist Romania. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Râmnicu Sărat prison was the main extermination center in Romania, replacing in this sense the Sighet prison that had had the same sinister role 10 years earlier. Detainees at the Râmnicu Sărat prison were forced to sit immobile for 17 hours per day, keeping their hands on their knees and looking straight at the light bulb above their cell door. This was a variation of the ‘unmasking position’ used in the Piteşti ‘reeducation’.

Vişinescu retired in 1978, during the time of dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu. Thereafter he would receive the substantial monthly pension to which former Militia colonels were entitled. In 2013, the Institute for the Investigation of Communist Crimes and the Memory of Romanian Exile (IICCMER) prepared an indictment against Vişinescu. Initially, he was accused of genocide, because “genocide” was the only crime for which prescription did not apply. In Romanian Law, a lawsuit must start within a legally determined period of time. If the lawsuit is presented after that time, an institution called prescription applies, which prevent authorities from filing the case. According to the Penal Code in force at the time “genocide” was the only crime for which prescription did not apply. Under the new Penal Code, however, which entered into force on 1 February 2014, Vişinescu was accused of crimes against humanity.

The Vişinescu Trial and Media Misunderstandings about Possible Future Prosecutions

Foreign mass media (such as The Guardian in September 2014) has followed the Alexandru Vişinescu trial. The English newspaper claimed that a total of 35 former officers associated with communist-era Romanian prisons and labor camps’ are about to be prosecuted for the mistreatment, torture and murder of political prisoners.

In reality, however, such a list does not exist (and never has). What has actually happened regarding such matters is as follows.

Legal Cases Brought against Former Commanders and Guards (2004-2013) by Victims’ Associations and Individuals

Since 2004, several associations of victims of the communist regime, as well as some individuals, have filed criminal complaints concerning different political crimes allegedly committed during the communist era.

The Military Prosecutor’s Office, which is attached to the Military Court in Bucharest, grouped all these complaints into File no. 35. It is now commonly referred to as the ‘communism lawsuit.’ In May 2007, IICCMER filed a criminal complaint against 210 former officers from different communist prisons and labor camps. Besides the names of the 210 political offices, the complaint also contained victims’ testimonials. (This was documented by Raluca Grosescu and Raluca Ursachi in Justiția penală de tranziție. De la Nürnberg la postcomunismul românesc, Iași, București, Polirom, 2009, 194-196).

Despite these actions, none of the former commanders or guards were ever investigated, charged with particular offences or prosecuted. In 2013, out of the previous 210 officers, IICCMER considered the possibility of re-filing complaints against 35 potential offenders, but eventually it filed criminal complaints only against five people: Alexandru Vişinescu, Ion Ficior (former commander of the Poarta Albă and Periprava camps), Iuliu Sebestyen (former deputy commander of the Gherla prison, but deceased since October 2013), Florian Cormoș (former commander of the Cernavodă camp) and Constantin Istrate (former deputy commander of the Gherla prison). In fact, in 2013, IICCMER re-filed the 2007 complaints.

Vișinescu’s lawsuit is currently underway at the Appeals Court in Bucharest, and there have been over ten hearings so far, including those from 22 September, 24 September, 22 October, 5 November or 17 December. In this lawsuit, only victims or relatives of the victims were admitted as civil plaintiffs.

However, it is worth mentioned that Valentin Cristea, the only survivor of the Râmnicu Sărat prison, and the two sisters of Corneliu Coposu – former leader of the National Peasants’ Party, incarcerated for political reasons in the Râmnicu Sărat prison between 1954 and 1962, and deceased since 1995, never became civil parties in this lawsuit, for reasons that are still unclear.

Different NGOs representing the interests of the former political detainees could not testify against Vișinescu, on the grounds that the penal legislation does not stipulate the intervention into the lawsuit of persons or organizations that are not parties in the legal action. In fact, the only civil parties admitted in this lawsuit were Anca Cernea, the daughter of Emil Bărbuș, former political detainee at the Râmnicu Sărat prison, and Nicoleta Eremia, the wife of another political detainee, Ion Eremia.

Other Current Legal Developments: the Eremia Case

In the debate regarding Romania’s capability to come to terms with its communist past, the case of Nicoleta Eremia is rather interesting. Ion Eremia was detained at Râmnicu Sărat prison between 1958 and 1964, and his widow, Nicoleta Eremia, is now asking for moral and material compensation of 100,000 euros for the sufferings that the communist regime caused to her husband and to herself personally during the time they were married (1971-1989). Yet this case is somewhat more complicated than most others.

Ion Eremia was a member of the interwar illegal Communist Party of Romania, a Major-General in the postwar Romanian Army and the commander of the Political Military Academy “I.V.Stalin” from Bucharest. In 1955, in the context of de-Stalinization, he was purged under the accusation that he had been co-plotting to remove the communist leader Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej from office. He was arrested three years later in 1958 and incarcerated at the Râmnicu Sărat prison.

In other words, Eremia was among those actively involved in Romania’s communization and Sovietization in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and his purging occurred in the context of the late 1950s domestic struggle for political power between different echelons of the Romanian Communist Party. Thus, it is at very least strange that in this lawsuit, Ion Eremia’s widow was, for nine hearings, the only legal representative of the political victims of the communist regime. In the meantime, the 88 year-old Alexandru Vişinescu continues to use any possible legal trick to try to slow down the proceedings against him.

Political Implications of Recent Attempts to Prosecute former Communist Commanders and Guards

IICCMER is a governmental agency. Its indictment against Vişinescu was made in 2013. However, in May 2012, Romania’s government had been formed by the Social Liberal Union (USL). This union had itself been formed by the Social Democratic Party (PSD), National Liberal Party (PNL) and Conservative Party (PC). During that same year, the Victor Ponta cabinet appointed a new candidate as president of the IICCMER, the young and ambitious PNL member Andrei Muraru. When the USL broke up in 2014, Andrei Muraru resigned, and was replaced by Radu Preda, Professor of Orthodox Theology at the Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca. Preda was commonly considered as being close to the PSD.

In spring 2014, Muraru ran (unsuccessfully) as a PNL candidate in the European parliamentary elections; his campaign slogan was ‘Andrei’s country- no communists.’ This slogan was meant to refer directly to his political ambitions with his former IICCMER office. It is also worth mentioning that throughout 2013 and 2014, Muraru was very present in the national media, in connection to the Vişinescu case, and one can only suspect that the ambitious PNL member used this lawsuit to try to gain voter support.

Interestingly though, the file generally designated as the “communism lawsuit” has been left untouched, gathering dust in the archive of the Military Prosecutor’s Office. One may justifiably raise the question as to why there is only one such case in trial phase (the Vişinescu case).

Further, the criminal complaint that the IICCMER filed against Vişinescu in 2013 was amateurishly elaborated, which suggests that it was primarily designed as a propagandistic tool to be used to support some hidden political agenda. So far, the most important factor that has influenced the trial has been this amateurish quality in which the IICCMER elaborated the 2013 criminal complaint against Alexandru Vişinescu.

In the complaint, the IICCMER charged Vişinescu only with the crimes he committed in the Râmnicu Sărat prison, but made no reference to the crimes he committed at the Jilava and Mislea prisons. Were these omissions due to genuine incompetence, or perhaps to a political agenda? Probably a little of both.

Conclusion: No Signs of a ‘Romanian Nuremberg’

As far as the ‘Romanian Nuremberg’ associations being made in the international media go, there is thus no such thing. This exaggeration once again may suggest that the IICCMER has a hidden agenda, trying to win foreign sympathy for the current government. Or, as the comparison was initially made by Radu Preda, president of the IICCMER, it may simply be that the current president of the IICCMER and his team of researchers are simply not very competent in their research duties.

In fact, the Romanian court for communist crimes cannot be compared to a historic event like Nuremberg. For one, it is a national court, not an international one, ruling on the crimes of a single person. Further, the evidence is very scarce. Finally, the case is being amateurishly presented by a government commission lacking expertise. Thus the trial will probably lead to no conviction.

Assuming that 88 year-old Alexandru Vişinescu lives to see out his trial, we may thus expect one of several possible outcomes. Given the poor evidence presented during the trial, Vişinescu will not be convicted or, if he is convicted, the sentence will be light, or even commuted in consideration of his advanced age.

In any case, whatever the verdict the court reaches will not amount to sufficient legal or moral justice, given the extent of his crimes. Further, given the current legal obstructions and general lack of traction in regards to cases against the other former commanders and prison guards cited above, it is clear that the wider crimes of the former communist regime on a systematic level will never be legally acknowledged.

And so, far from a ‘Romanian Nuremberg,’ the apparent lack of interest or competence in handling these cases indicate that the residual wounds associated with the country’s communist past will remain unhealed.


* Mircea Stănescu is an archivist and historian at the Contemporary Archives Bureau of the Romanian National Archives. He is also the president of the Association for the Memory and History of Communism. He graduated from Bucharest University’s Faculty of Philosophy in 1994, and received his PhD in Philosophy from the same University in 1999, with a dissertation on the Piteşti-type ‘reeducation’ methods.

He has also worked as a research fellow at the Central-European University in Prague (1999-2001), University Toulouse le Mirail (1996), the Institute of Political Sciences (1999-2002) and Maison des Sciences de l’Homme in Paris (2002). Mircea Stănescu was also a researcher at the National Institute for the Study of Totalitarianism (1994-1995), at the Institute for the Study of Quality of Life (1996-1999) and at the National Council for the Study of the Security Archives (2000-2001).

He is the author of various works on the communist persecutions in Romania, including Reeducare în Romania communistă [Reeducation în communist Romania], 3 vol., Polirom, Iaşi, Bucureşti, 2010-2012 and The Reeducation trials in communist Romania, East European Monographs, Columbia University Press, 2011.

Revived Transylvania Dispute Strains Romanian-Hungarian Relations, with Potential for Future Internationalization of the Issue

By Elena Dragomir editor’s note: despite both countries being NATO and EU members, Hungary and Romania have recently returned to a war of words – and flags – due to issues concerning Romania’s Hungarian population. If this kind of situation can occur in 2013, what kind of message does it send to aspiring Balkan countries affected by similar, and even more serious disputes?

Romania and Hungary have recently reopened a chronic bilateral disagreement: the so-called ‘Transylvania problem.’ This dispute is affecting local, national and international relationships between local administrations, political parties, and international diplomacy, with the ripple effect being felt as far away as Brussels.

Over history, the territory of Transylvania has often been a subject of dispute between the two states. Now, however, Romania and Hungary are both members in the European Union and in NATO, making it more hard to believe that they would confront each other (through declarations or otherwise) again on the subject of Transylvania’s territory and status.

Nonetheless, on 7 February 2013, the Undersecretary of State in the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Zsolt Nemeth declared at the Kossuth Radio Station that Hungary would take ‘diplomatic measures’ against Romania. This would be in response to the Romanian authorities’ decisions to ban the display of the flag of the so-called Ţinutul Secuiesc (Terra Siculorum or Székelys Land) on the administrative buildings in Romania, according to a report from Mediafax.

The spark that started the fire was a domestic Romanian controversy regarding the so-called flag of Covasna County. The general context is provided, on the one hand, by the historical Trianon Treaty disagreements between Romania and Hungary, and on the other, by the irredentist policy of the Hungarian post-socialist governments.

Although nowadays Romania and Hungary are supposed to be allies and partners on the international stage, the Hungarian government apparently seeks ‘to overcome the Treaty of Trianon’ – as the Austrian Green MEP Ulrike Lunacek once phrased it – on grounds that ethnic Hungarians in Romania are in danger of being assimilated, and thus of losing their national identity.

Hungarian Diaspora Citizenship Legislation and Romania

In 2001, the Hungarian Parliament voted on the Hungarian Status Law, which resulted in the introduction of a certificate for ethnic Hungarians living in the neighboring states of Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine, Croatia, Slovenia and Serbia. Claiming to support the preservation of the ‘national identity’ of Hungarians living outside Hungary’s borders, the Hungarian authorities also established an objective regarding the ‘unification of the Hungarian nation’; they argued that the alleged assimilation of the Hungarian minority by the neighboring countries could be prevented only by granting those ethnic Hungarians citizenship (.PDF). In 2010-2011 Hungary simplified the procedure further for ethnic Hungarians from neighboring countries seeking Hungarian citizenship.

In 2010, Attila Korodi (UDMR, former Minister of Environment) declared that approximately 1.5 million ethnic Hungarians in Romania will eventually request and be granted Hungarian citizenship, according to Ziare. By December 2011, 200,000 Romanian citizens had applied for Hungarian citizenship, and according to Adevărul, between January and August 2011, no less than 12,000 people from Romanian received it. Many of these people were interested, according to some analyses, in having access to the European labor market, using Hungarian citizenship to bypass restrictions still applied on Romanian citizens in many European states in this regard.

In 2011, the elected presidents of the County Councils of Covasna (Tamás Sándor), Haghita (Borboly Csaba) and Mureş (Lokodi Edit-Emoke) became Hungarian citizens too.  Romania does not have a law banning dual citizenship (Slovakia and Germany, for two, have such a law). Thus, citizens with dual Romanian and Hungarian citizenship are allowed to take up many public offices in Romania. The recent ongoing Romanian-Hungarian scandal has again raised the vexed question of affiliation: to which of the two states are such persons in Romania’s public offices actually loyal?

Ethnic Hungarian Party Agitates in Romania and Brussels

Many Romanians have their doubts. These officials often claim that the rights of the ‘Hungarian nation’ in Romania are not respected by the state.  In making this case they do not however mention contrasting realities, such as the fact that the ethnic Hungarian party UDMR (Democratic Union of the Hungarians in Romania) has been a coalition partner for a cumulative total of 16 years in various post-communist Romanian governments, and that it has MEP representation in Brussels.

What is actually the case seems to have less to do with minority discrimination than with simple math. The actual vote-winning performance of the UDMR is not significant enough to affect the formation of Romanian cabinets. Still, ethnic Hungarians complain that Romania does not respect minority rights each time the UDMR’s weak political performance threatens to make the party unnecessary for forming a government.

Now, UDMR (the former political partner of the Democratic Liberal Party, which lost the 2012 elections) is again in opposition, though the recent Romania-Hungary scandal may well bring it back into the government.  The UDMR mayor of Sfântu Gheroghe (Antal Arpad) has claimed that 70% of the rights of the Hungarian minority are not respected. At the same time, Kelemen Hunor, the UDMR president, announced on 8 February 2013 that the party had just created a special service for monitoring Hungarian minority rights, according to Mediafax.

As Adevărul reported on the same day, a prominent ethnic Hungarian politician has recently lashed out at the Romanian side over the issues. Laszlo Tókés is a Romanian MEP and, from 2010 vice-president of the European Parliament. He is also the former honorary president of the UDMR. On a Romanian TV show he recently made the rather bombastic claim that the Ponta cabinet is promoting an anti-Hungarian (anti-maghiarism, in Romanian) policy “that can be compared only with anti-Semitism and with the hate against the Romani people.”

Top ethnic Hungarian leaders in Romania also complain, both publicly and privately at the European Union, that ethnic Hungarian rights in Romania are not respected. European Union MEPs from UDMR often claim that the Romanian government discriminates against the Hungarian minority. This dialogue in turn provides the government in Budapest with additional pretexts and alleged proofs of the so-called ‘Romanian state policy’ of assimilating the Hungarian minority, and of infringing upon the rights of the Hungarian minority.

Minority Rights Discourse as Pretext for International Arbitration: A Nod to the Soviet Model?

This type of political maneuvering, however, is regarded by many Romanians as an attempt to draw the European Union into an arbitration role in order to resolve the so-called ‘Transylvania problem.’ For Romanians, this reminds of the time when Romania had to give thanks for the benevolence of the Soviet Union in order to have Hungary’s (perceived) intentions with regard to Transylvania’s territory denied.

Throughout the entire communist period, Kremlin leaders often tried to use the Transylvania issue as leverage against Romanian leaders. In 1952, under Soviet pressure, an Autonomous Hungarian Region was created in Romania. It functioned until 1960 ([i]) when it was followed by an Autonomous Hungarian Region– Mureş maintained until 1968. In socialist times, the controversy was often fought out in public by Romanian and Hungarian scholars.

Behind the scenes, however, the Romanian leadership often feared that Hungary was trying to persuade the Soviet Union to ‘act as an arbiter’ – as Romanian communist leader Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej phrased it in June 1964 – between Romania and Hungary, to agree to impose its decision upon Romania and to ‘give Transylvania’ to Hungary. ([ii]) During the socialist period, besides the historical type of arguments – such as the claim that the Hungarian ethnic minority represented the majority population in Transylvania, different voices in the Eastern Bloc would emphasize that the rights of Romania’s ethnic Hungarians were not respected and that therefore the Transylvania problem was still an open subject. ([iii]) Is Hungary appealing now to the same type of arguments, Romanians wonder, in order to justify its interests and intentions regarding Transylvania’s territory?

Flag Controversy Reignites the Dispute

Recently, the dispute regarding an autonomous Hungarian region in Transylvania re-emerged, culminating with the current Romanian-Hungarian state tensions. The spark was provided by the controversy regarding the flag of the county of Covasna. In March 2008, the Covasna County Council adopted the flag of Covasna, which became the unofficial flag of the so-called Tinutul Secuiesc (Terra Siculorum).

At the time, the president of Covasna county was Tamás Sándor of the UDMR. In June 2012, Sándor was once more elected president of the Covasna County Council (in 2011, he had also achieved Hungarian dual citizenship). Currently, this council is composed of 30 councilors. These include 18 from the UDMR, four from the Hungarian People’s Party in Transylvania (another ethic party, opened in 2011), three councilors from the Hungarian Civic Party (registered as a party in 2008), five from the Social Liberal Union (USL) and one independent.

Tamás Sándor has asked the mayors in the region to display the colors of the flag of the Tinutul Secuiesc, and the flag was indeed flown on several municipal buildings, including the building of the City Hall of Sfântu Gheorghe and the building of the Covasna County Council. The flag has been also displayed at the meetings of the Council.  In this photo, one may see besides the Romanian flag Hungary’s flag, and the flag of the so-called Ţinutul Secuiesc flying on the building of a council house in Harghita County.

In June 2012, the Prefect of Covasna county, Codrin Munteanu (from the Social Liberal Union, or USL) proceeded against the Covasna County Council’s decision regarding the flag of the Ţinutul Secuiesc. Munteanu argued that the displaying of this flag was not in accordance with Romanian law, and that it was therefore illegal. In January 2013 he asked mayors in the region to stop flying the flag on administrative buildings. In response, on 27 January 2013 Romania’s flag displayed on the building of the Prefectura Covasna was vandalized.

Tinutul Secuiesc and Territorial Autonomy

Tinutul Secuiesc is a term that arbitrarily designates the territories of the Romanian counties of Covasna, Harghita and part of Mureş. These three counties have an ethnic Hungarian majority population. According to the 2011 census, 73% of the Covasna county population, 84% of the Harghita county population and 37% of the Mureş county population declared themselves ethnic Hungarians. The official website of the Covasna County Council acknowledges the Tinutul Secuiesc as ‘a historical-ethnographical region in the center of Romania, well delimited’ and reasons that ‘today the Tinutul Secuiesc includes the counties of Harghita, Covasna and part of the County of Mureş, with a Hungarian majority population.’

The real matter behind the flag scandal is, however, the problem regarding Transylvania’s territorial autonomy. Using as main argument the fact that the ethnic Hungarians were the majority population in the region designated as the Ţinutul Secuiesc, during an Antena 3 TV Show (Sinteza Zilei) broadcasted in the evening of 29 January 2013, Tamás Sándor openly admitted that the real subject of his interest was the ‘territorial autonomy’ of the Tinutul Secuiesc, for which he openly militated. On 2 February 2013, Constantin Niţă, vice-president of the Social Democratic Party, declared – as Jurnalul reported – that Tamás Sándor’s declarations worried him. While the local authorities have and must have administrative autonomy, he said, the “territorial autonomy of Ţinutul Secuiesc is out of the question.”

On 5 February 2013, Zsolt Nemeth, Deputy Foreign Minister in the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, asked the Romanian government to put an end to the ‘war of the flags.’  Arguing that the decision of the Romanian authorities to ban the Tinutul Secuiesc flag from administrative buildings amounted to ‘symbolic aggression,’ Nemeth declared (during a ceremony in a South Budapest district) that the Hungarian government expected Romania to stop this ‘aggression.’ At that ceremony the flag of the Tinutul Secuiesc was displayed. On the same occasion, Nemeth urged the local councils in Hungary to fly the Tinutul Secuiesc flag “in solidarity with the Hungarian population in Transylvania,” and “in support of the autonomy” of the Tinutul Secuiesc region.

Diplomatic Discord

In response to Zsolt Nemeth’s declarations, the Romanian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Titus Corlăţean, pointed out that the usage of the terms ‘war’ and ‘aggression’ – albeit ‘war of flags’ and ‘symbolic aggression’ – should not be so easily pronounced in diplomatic discourse. The Romanian minister also noted that Hungarian officials should not make use of the issue for their own interest domestic political struggles. “In Budapest one may display any kind of flags one wants,” Corlăţean declared- however, he added, Romania has a law on this issue and “has the right and the sovereign duty to respect” that law.

On 6 February, Hungary’s ambassador in Romania, Oszkar Fuzes, publicly declared that he agrees with Zsolt Nemeth’s declarations, adding that the displaying of the ‘national Székelys flag’ on Romania’s administrative buildings is a ‘natural’ right of the Hungarians in Covasna and Harghita Counties.  According to Oszkar Fuzes, the Hungarian minority cannot feel at home in Romania because it cannot use its symbols and because its rights are infringed upon (încălcate, in Romanian).

Bogdan Aurescu, secretary of state in the Romanian Foreign Ministry noted that Zsolt’s declaration gave explicit support for the region’s territorial autonomy based on ethnic criteria, thereby contravening Romania’s Constitution. To this, Fuzes stated that Romania’s constitution should be modified to replace the wording in article 1, according to which Romania is a sovereign, independent, unitary and indivisible National State; he suggested that the wording should be changed to read, ‘multinational, sovereign and indivisible state’. Moreover, the Hungarian ambassador declared that he ‘asserts (susţin, in Romanian) the cultural autonomy, the territorial autonomy and the personal autonomy’ of the region, and that the Székelys Land should be officially recognized as an administrative territorial region of Romania, and finally that ‘the Hungarian state supports the request of the Hungarians from Romania,’ Mediafax reported.

On 7 February, the Romanian and Hungarian Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Titus Corlăţean and Janos Maronyi, had a telephone conversation, during which they agreed that the common interest of bilateral cooperation “requests the avoidance of the escalation of attitudes and declarations formulated publicly in the two countries.” Despite these vague diplomatic formulations, the Romanian-Hungarian disagreements have not yet been solved. Sooner or later. they will re-emerge, under different pretexts.

References to Kosovo: a New Precedent for Autonomy Demands?

For Romania, the autonomy of the so-called Székelys Land is ‘out of the question’ for several reasons. First of all, Romanian has argued that this demand is fundamentally based on a false assertion (i.e., that the rights of the Hungarian minority in Romania are not respected and that Romania has a state policy of assimilating its minorities).  Second, Romanian leaders note that only about 40% of the country’s overall Hungarian minority inhabits the Ţinutiul Secuiesc, and that it can thus not claim to be representative of the whole minority population.

Third, it is argued that granting the region territorial autonomy would create a precedent, one which the other 60% of ethnic Hungarians would cite in demanding the territorial autonomy of Transylvania. Granting autonomy would therefore create a dangerous precedent for the territorial integrity of the Romanian state. The general fear is that ethnic Hungarians supported by nationalists in Budapest would not stop with cultural or political autonomy, but would eventually seek to unite with Hungary.

In this respect, the Kosovo precedent has been cited as a model by Tokes since 2008, and has triggered significant worries in Romania since then. In 2010, participating at a summer school in Tusvanyos, Laszlo Tokes again rhetorically asked: “if Kosovo obtained its independence, why cannot we obtain our autonomy?” He added that Viktor Orban “as prime minister of the nation” had set for himself the goal of the “unity of the Hungarian nation” in which the Hungarian outside Hungary were also included.

The War in Brussels and Beyond

Seeing all of these hostile statements, political decisions and symbolic acts, some Romanians fear that their government is being implicitly blackmailed by Hungary and by certain ethnic Hungarians in Romania, with the continuous threat of being arraigned at the European Union for alleged violation of minority rights.

The Romanian government is also particularly concerned about the potential for this tactic being employed now because Brussels is seen as favoring its arch-rival, President Traian Băsescu. Last summer, during Romania’s political stand-off and the failed referendum to depose the president, the EU Observer reported that Brussels publicly supported Băsescu, and accused the government of violating the rule of law. (Some notable dissenters from this position would emerge, such as British ELDR President Sir Graham Watson). Nevertheless, this perceived favoritism has weakened and complicated Romania’s ability to respond and react to Hungarian interference in its domestic affairs at the EU level.

In this context, it will become important to observe whether the Romanian government and parliament can succeed in clearly defining Romania’s position with regard to Hungary’s future interests in Transylvania. They will have to deal with vexing related issues such as the problematic issue of dual citizens in state offices who openly profess allegiance to a different state, that is, Hungary.

Further afield, the battle for influence in Brussels continues as elected Romanian representatives such as the aforementioned Tokes and Monica Macovei have been criticized for presenting Romania in a negative light for their own ethnic, personal and party interests. That said, it will also be of interest to note whether such dissenters can gain sympathy among other European Union representatives, especially those who may be naïve or unfamiliar with the issues. In the end, if Romanian leaders and representatives do not find consensus on state interests, the Romanian-Hungarian disagreement could fall victim to EU mediation, which would result in rising ethnic tensions and possible successes for Hungary.

[i] See, for instance, Larry L. Watts, Fereşte-mă, Doamne, de prieteni… Războiul clandestin al Blocului Sovietic cu România, Rao, Bucureşti, 2011, 179-189

[ii] See, for instance, The minutes of the Plenary Session of the Central Committee of the Romanian Workers Party [CC of RWP], 4 January 1964, in the Romanian Central Historical Archives (ANIC), Fond Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party (CC of RCP), Section Office, File no 1/1964, 3-31; Report, 7 March 1964, ANIC, CC of RCP, Propaganda and Agitation Section, File no 9/1964, 6-15; Note concerning the discussions between Gheorghiu-Dej and Liu Fang, China’s ambassador in Romania, 5 June 1964, Snagov, ANIC, CC of PCR, Foreign relations, File no. 5/1965, 28-53

[iii] See, for instance, Stelian Mihalcea’s Report from Budapest, 13 October 1964, ANIC, CC of RCP, Foreign Relations Section, File no 24/1964,  15

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Greek-Romanian Relations Flourishing amidst Crisis

By Ioannis Michaletos

Greece and Romania are increasing their economic ties, despite the severe economic crisis affecting both countries, by engaging in steady bilateral growth in trade, investments and capital flow.

In 2011 alone it is estimated that 200 Greek-owned businesses were established in Romania, especially the Bucharest metropolitan region. According to the Athens Chamber of Commerce, the economic depression that has hit Greece, with a cumulative drop in GDP of 20% since the crisis started, is prompting risk-averse business people to establish themselves in Romania.

Although the latter is also in the midst of a crisis, it has better growth potential, is located closer to expanding Central European consumer bases (Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland), and also close to Ukraine and Russia.

The recent acceptance of the latter into the World Trade Organization will provide ample opportunities for the export of consumer products and services. The Greek Ministry for National Economy roughly estimates that 35,000 Romanian citizens are currently working in Greek companies in the country, some, previously immigrants to Greece who returned home to become managers and liaisons between their country and the Greek corporations.

In a recent report made by the Greek Embassy in Bucharest, Ioannis Paschalis, minister counselor for economic and commercial affairs, noted that in early 2012 some 5,284 Greek-owned companies were registered in Romania, with 82 established in the first three months of 2012 alone. In an interview with the Romanian “Business Review Journal”, Paschalis noted another interesting aspect: “Greek capital inflow in Romania increased by more than EUR 1 billion over 2009-2011,” he said, adding that “Romanian exports to Greece increased by 4 percent and 8.6 percent in 2010 and 2011, respectively.”

The total capital invested by Greeks in Romania totals more than 4 billion euros, according to the Greek Embassy in the country. This figure was reached without taking into account any estimates of private investments in real estate or ‘unofficial’ investments- often a product of money laundering between Greek and Romanian networks of white-collar or street crime.

In general Greece is the fourth-largest investor in Romania with a diverse range of activities. RomTelecom is one of Cosmote’s subsidiaries in the Balkans. The banking sector is particularly dynamic as well, with Bancpost, Alpha Bank, Banca Romaneasca, Emporiki bank, ATE bank and Marfin Bank representing Greek ownership. These banks operate around 850 branches across the country.

In 2009, Greek investments received a boost even as the debt crisis was engulfing Greece, with 720 million euros being invested in Romania. An additional 570 million euros were invested during the next year. The majority of these investments were directed towards industries like food and dairy production, aluminum plants, healthcare, bakeries, IT and banking.

The Greek Ministry of Agriculture has also received several requests from Greek farmers’ syndicates over the past few years asking for assistance in exploring opportunities for buying farmland in Romania for producing corn and sunflowers as well as animal products such as pork. Romania has potential, so far unrealized, for becoming a major agricultural exporting state in Europe, and in addition has the capacity for considerable exports to the CIS countries; these number more than 280 million consumers.

Another interesting trend is the increase – by as much as 30 percent – in Greek university students pursuing their studies in Romania, in either public universities or private Anglophone colleges. Greeks traditionally tend to study abroad and the economic crisis has influenced them to choose Romania, due to the lower cost of living there than in the rest of the EU, as well as its proximity to Greece. This also helps increase the interpersonal connections between the two countries due to mutual immigration. Most recently, Greek academics, mostly educated in the sciences, have taken jobs in Romania and teach at the local tertiary level.

Lastly, tourism is expanding, with a steady increase of Romanians coming to Greece each year. The Greek National Tourism Authority estimates that since 2005 the country has become among the top five destinations for Romanian holiday-makers, with some 500,000 visitors so far in 2012.

Roxana Birau, a Romanian who works with the local office of the National Organization of Tourism in Greece, has noted that “an Englishman spends five to 10 euros a day, while a Romanian disperses between 80 and 100 euros [above and beyond] the pre-paid holiday package.” It is of interest to note that in general Balkan and Russian tourists are traditionally bigger spenders on their vacations than are the more affluent Northern European ones, following a similar consumer behavior of that of American and Canadian tourists.

The number of Romanian citizens living as immigrants in Greece is estimated at 30,000 people, although according to the estimates of the Romanian Embassy in Athens, there has been a 25 percent drop since 2010 and an additional decline is expected if the crisis continues for long, as is expected. During the boom years of the early 2,000’s more than 70,000 Romanians worked in Greece.

On the other hand, according to the General Secretariat for Greeks Abroad (a subdivision of the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs) the Greek community in Romania numbers 14,000, divided amongst Greeks descending from communities of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires era, and 1940’s political refugees which account for 70 percent. The rest are composed of new immigrants who came over the past 15 years, either working in Greek companies in Romania or marrying citizens of the country.

The latter group is estimated to increase due to the worsening economic situation in Greece. Although numbers are not exact, it is estimated that 800 Greeks settled over the past two years, with the trend expected to accelerate in the near future.

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Romanian-Moldovan Relations: A Contemporary Overview

By Tatiana Drăguțan* Editor’s Note: with only three days to go until Romania’s referendum decides the fate of President Băsescu, this comprehensive special report examines the state of relations between the country and its important eastern neighbor- a relationship of great interest to Russia and the EU.


 On July 16, 2012, Romanian President Traian Băsescu had a meeting with Moldovan bloggers and journalists. The meeting occurred precisely during the referendum campaign that has followed the president’s suspension by parliament. The referendum will be held on July 29.

Băsescu’s visit could be explained in part by the fact that a certain number of “new” Romanian citizens, the large majority of whom voted for him in the last presidential elections, live in the Republic of Moldova.

Romania’s citizenship law allows former Romanian citizens who lost their citizenship against their will, as well as their descendants up to the third generation, to apply individually to regain it. Therefore there are Ukrainian and Moldovan citizens who have obtained Romanian citizenship.

In Chisinau, Băsescu met with certain journalists and bloggers, and discussed Romanian-Moldovan relations during his presidency. Considering Băsescu’s currently low popularity at home, however, it is not sure that he will remain in office after the referendum.

Present Relations: Improvements Compared to 2009

Present relations between the two countries are much better than was the case during the period when the Moldovan Communist Party was governing the Republic of Moldova. Soon after the summer 2009 parliamentary elections, concrete initiatives were made to improve the situation. One significant step was the dissolution of a visa regime for Romanian citizens that had been created by the Communist government during the April 2009 riots in Chisinau; besides irritating Romanians, the short-lived visa regime also violated agreements Romania had with the EU related to a visa-free regime for EU citizens.

Another helpful step taken after the summer 2009 elections was the enlargement of Romania’s network of consulates in Moldova, with new ones opened in Cahul and Balti, and a consular office in Ungheni. Also, the Small Border Trafficking Agreement was signed in November 2009, and a long-awaited border treaty, in November 2010.

Nevertheless, despite these positive developments, several important and sometimes controversial issues exist that have to be considered when speaking about Moldovan-Romanian relations.

Identity Issue

The issue of identity is probably the most sensitive one between the two states, and largely accounts for occasional deteriorations in relations between them.

Historically, almost all of the present Republic of Moldova’s territory was part of modern Romania in the interwar period, and part of the Principality of Moldavia until 1812. According to the latest census (2004), the large majority of the population is Romanian.

It is to be mentioned that the majority call themselves Moldovans and not Romanians. Nevertheless, if both Moldovans and Romanians are assigned to the same ethnic group, that of Romanian, 75.8% (or, 69.5% if including the self-proclaimed, autonomous but non-recognized Transnistria) declare themselves Moldovans. According to the census, 2.2% declared themselves as Romanians (or 2% if including Transnistria), another 8.4% (or, 11.2% if including Transnistria) declared themselves Ukrainian, while the Russian population was declared at 5.9% (9.4% if including Transistria).

Despite the relatively small size of Russian minority, there seems to be a general perception that it should be larger. One reason for this is that many representatives from other national minorities (such as the Romanian one) suffered from an intense process of Russification under the Soviet Union.

While the constitutional language of Moldova is called Moldovan, it is self-evident that Moldovan is Romanian, and no scholars support the idea of a Moldovan language distinct from Romanian. Today, some Moldovan citizens call themselves Romanians, but the large majority call themselves Moldovans.

Therefore, while the majority agree that the Moldovan language is in fact Romanian, when it comes to Moldovan identity things are slightly different. The idea of Moldovanism as a separate identity has been widely present in the public discourse of Moldovan politicians in the years after Moldova got its independence. But no scholars support the existence of a Moldovan ethnicity as distinct from the Romanian one, except for the Soviet scholars.

“Moldovanism” was made up in the interwar period, and was part of the Stalinist policy for remodelling nations and ethnic groups so widely practiced in the USSR. Those who invented it stated that there was a distinct Moldovan language, derived from Romanian but different from it. One general policy result of this situation in Moldova is confusion – the country has changed its foreign policy orientation several times after it won sovereignty with the collapse of the USSR.

Changing the name of the national language has never been attempted by popular referendum, though the issue was considered for the last one held in September 2010. Nevertheless, since the governing coalition of the time sought mainly to change the method of electing the president with that referendum, decided not to include the sensitive language issue too, as it would have reduced the chances for it to pass

Unification Ventures and Framework Agreement

Many Europeans (and many Romanians) are interested to know the opinion of the Moldovans themselves related to the idea of unification. Russia attacks Romania on a permanent basis regarding this issue, which is not being considered at the moment.

Before and after Moldova became independent, movements for the unification of the two states, supported both in Moldova and in Romania, gained ground; however, they were never strong enough and Russian influence also proved to be too much for this venture to succeed. Many Romanians are still wondering why Moldovans did not want unification with Romania at that time; however, many seem to have not understood the complexity of the problem.

Only some Romanians proved able to understand the fact that Moldovans felt themselves as a separate nation, even if many families had been separated in the interwar period, with some members remaining in Romania and others in the USSR.

A Border Treaty and Framework Agreement were negotiated for years between the two countries, and were very much discussed by Moldova’s former government, led by the Communist Party. The Border Treaty was signed in November 2010, while the latter has been abandoned for the time being. Some EU countries have criticized Romania slightly for not signing the Border Treaty with Moldova, stating that it was supposed to serve as a guarantor of Moldovan sovereignty.

Interestingly, the position of the EU here used to be motivated by the fact that it was interested in consolidating Moldova as a state. The Romanian minister of foreign affairs at that time, Teodor Baconschi, stated that by signing this treaty, Romania wanted to “discourage the obsessive allegations of some political circles in Moldova concerning an imaginary irredentist agenda of Romania,” meaning by this the Moldovan Communist Party.

In the case of the Framework Agreement, the main disputes were over the issue of common history and language, issues that were typical for the Communist government. Currently, the subject is no longer debated openly.

A de jure unification is not possible at this moment also because of economic disparities between the two countries. As said, there is not a strong will among Moldovans for unification, and the international community does not seem to support the venture. However, a de facto unification is possible, starting with a visa-free regime to the EU for Moldovans. This has to do with dual-citizenship legislation, which will be discussed later.

Educational and Economic Relations

Romania offers a large programme of scholarships for secondary, university and post-university education for those of Romanian ethnicity living outside Romanian borders. The larger number of these, of course, is offered to Moldovan nationals, who comprise the largest concentrated population of ethnic Romanians living outside the state borders. For young people in Moldova, this has provided an opportunity to study abroad, to gain exposure to a different educational system, and to enjoy scholarships that keep costs quite low. For the Romanian government, this is a significant investment- 5,000 scholarships are currently being offered, and this number will be doubled, President Băsescu has promised.

During the first visit to Bucharest of Moldovan President Nicolae Timofti, Băsescu promised to grant Moldova one million books, which seemed to be a nice symbolic gesture. The problem with this donation, however, was that instead of providing useful and modern literature/educational works, the Romanian government selected 10 basic titles (to be printed 100,000 times each), which was not the best investment.

The economic relationship between Romania and Moldova, traditionally well interconnected, is much better than during the period between April 2009 and the parliamentary elections of that summer. After the 2009 April riot in Chisinau, the Communist-led government undertook harsh measures to limit the traffic of people and goods between the two countries. This caused economic relations to sharply worsen, and the traffic of persons fell by more than 50%.

At present, the priorities of the two governments in the economic sphere are two energy projects: the interconnection of energy systems (the power line Falciu-Gotesti) and of the natural gas transportation systems in both Romania and Moldova (Iasi-Ungheni).

An interesting aspect of the last project (to be conducted by the Romanian state company S.N.T.G.N. TRANSGAZ SA Medias and the Moldovan private company Moldova Gaz) is that the main shareholder in the latter one is Gazprom (with 50% of shares) and Transistria, represented by the Committee for the Administration of Assets of Transistria (13.44%). The Moldovan government has only 35.33% shares.

Through these projects, Moldova and Romania intend to make their gas supply more secure, while Gazprom will be the main shareholder from the eastern part of the Prut River.

Citizenship Concerns

The topic of citizenship is probably the hottest issue for the EU countries concerning Romania and Moldova. These countries consider that 3.8 million Moldovans, once they get their Romanian citizenship, will leave for low-paid jobs in other European Union countries, and will thus affect the work markets in an already economically depressed Union. From 1990-2012 there were granted a few hundred thousand citizenships.

However, the situation may not be quite that disastrous. Many of those from Moldova who wanted to leave for Western Europe have left by now. Romanian citizenship is, in addition, an instrument of controlling how numerous such persons are. At least they are registered now, can cross the border legally, can legally return to their families and can benefit to a certain degree from social protection mechanisms. Besides, in Europe, in the majority of cases Moldovans do the ‘dirty work’ that locals do not want to do.

If the procedure of granting Romanian citizenship was simplified in a few stages and shortened to approximately one year, the problem now is with the procedures related to getting the civil status and identity documents. Whether intentionally complicated or not, the complexity of this process enacted by the Romanian authorities creates a favorable environment for corruption to flourish, involving criminal networks active in both countries. Even if the Romanian authorities changed the procedure out of an intention to reduce or avoid corruption, the current system is not functional: people have to wait for more than one year in order to transcribe a civil status certificate issued abroad for one issued by the Romanian authorities.

The Transnistrian Conflict

Although this hot topic is too complex to be analyzed in the current article, Transistria does play some role in Romanian-Moldovan relations. One reason is because Romania is at the NATO and EU border, while Transistria remains a frozen conflict. Unfortunately for Romania, Romania is not included in the negotiation process; instead, it is represented by the EU that has observer status only in the 5+2 negotiation format.

Looking at the events to follow, it should be noted that German Chancellor Angela Merkel will probably visit Chisinau sometime between the end of the summer and September. According to Bogdan Nedea, an analyst from the Center for Conflict Prevention and Early Warning, a Romanian think tank, it is debated that Germany will put pressure on Moldova to accept its federalization, even if this not be directly expressed.

Germany, in exchange, would support Moldova in its relations with the EU (probably related to the visa regime and other issues). In this particular context, with Germany acting as the leader of the EU, Romania does not have much de facto influence on how the EU is represented in solving the Transnistrian conflict.

Earlier this month Romanian website reported that Russia’s Special Representative for Transnistria and the Republic of Moldova, Dmitry Rogozin, published on his Twitter account that Russia will send a group of experts whose scope is to make a social-economic analysis of the self-proclaimed republic, and make recommendations regarding how Transistria could attract Russian investors. Rogozin was appointed after a new president was elected in December last year in Transistria, Evgeni Shevchuk, who seems to be less subordinated to Russia than was his predecessor.

Most recently, according to the Moldovan website, Moldovan PM Vlad Filat and Transnistrian President Shevchuk together visited Greece, where they also discussed regulating the relationship between Transnistria and Moldova. With new leadership in Tiraspol, hostile discourse from the recently-appointed Rogozin and pressure from the EU – preceded by a conference on the Transnistrian conflict in Germany in June, to be followed by Merkel’s upcoming visit to Chisinau right before a new planned round of negotiations over the Transnistrian conflict – it seems that the stakes have now been raised.

At the moment, Romania is so preoccupied with its own internal political squabbles that it could not be of much influence even if it had a more direct role; there’s the referendum to be held at the end of July, parliamentary elections in autumn, and possible presidential ones (depending on the outcome of the referendum), while many have complained that the minister of foreign affairs is not the best candidate for that position.

A clearer picture will surely emerge by the end of the year. The greatest risk for Moldova is that Germany will put pressure on it in exchange for vague promises. Another danger comes from the Russian side; right after being appointed, Rogozin threatened that if politicians in Chisinau consider themselves Romanians (by ethnicity), Moldova’s state integrity will suffer from that. In stating this, the Russian envoy implied not only Transnistria, but also other recognised autonomous regions of Moldova, such as Gagauzia.

Russian historiographers (and politicians) have typically supported the idea of two separate identities, languages and nations- Romanian and Moldovan. According to Bogdan Nedea, Russia feels threatened by Romania’s role in Moldova, and thus continues to play the ‘nationality card’ to highlight separation. If Romania sticks to more pragmatic and less emotive issues, avoiding nationalistic, linguistic and historical discourse it will also help to avoid getting engaged in these sorts of debates being supported by Russia.

Church Issues

In Moldova there are two Metropolitan Orthodox Churches: the Moldovan Orthodox Church, subordinate to the Moscow Patriarchate and supported by the Moldovan government, and the Bessarabian Metropolitan Church, which is subordinate to the Bucharest Patriarchate.

The latter accounts for 23% of Moldova’s Christian believers, according to an Infotag opinion poll conducted in 2000. Even though it won a lawsuit at CEDO, the Bessarabian Church still encounters problems with registration of churches, with processes often being blocked by officials. Additionally, it has encountered problems with getting its properties returned that had been confiscated by the Soviet regime.

Future Prospects

Romania’s current political crisis and autumn parliamentary elections mean, frankly speaking, that there will be no time for much activity on relations either with Moldova, or with other neighbouring countries.

The July 29 referendum will seek to confirm the governing coalition’s suspension of President Băsescu. Secondly, neither of the main political parties (the governing Liberal Social Union and the Băsescu-supporting, opposition Liberal Democratic Party) has prepared candidates for the presidential election, should it be required. Băsescu can only hope that the referendum will not pass. However, it will succeed if a simple majority of those included in the voting lists vote, and vote against him. If the referendum succeeds, new presidential elections should be organized within 90 days.

This would mean that Romania would have only an interim president during this precarious summer of economic troubles across Europe. In addition to the fact that Romania lacks a clear long-term strategy regarding its relations with Moldova, the current coalition will probably be less supportive in enforcing Romania’s relations with Moldova- even if the general national strategy views Moldova relations as being strategically important.


*Tatiana Drăguțan is an analyst of political affairs, international relations and macroeconomics. Originally from Moldova, she has lived for over 12 years in Romania. There, she has worked for the foreign diplomatic missions of Azerbaijan and Lithuania (in the latter case, as adviser to the ambassador and cultural affairs officer). A native speaker of Romanian, she is also proficient in Russian and English, with intermediate knowledge of French. Currently Tatiana is undertaking an Executive Master’s in Business Administration from Maastricht School of Management.

Tatiana also holds a bachelor’s degree in English and Romanian Philology from the University of Oradea, and several MA degrees, including one in English Applied Linguistics (from Bucharest University), one in International Relations: Conflict Analysis and Solving, and another in Public Policies and European Integration (both from the National School for Political and Administrative Studies).

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In Romania, Connections Clouded between Intelligence, Business and Politics

By Elena Dragomir and Chris Deliso

Since February, Romania political observers have been intrigued to see what implications key leadership changes at the top of the country’s political-security establishment might have for other eventualities. What these shifts can tell us about the evolving Romanian power structure today thus remains a subject of interest for analysts local and foreign alike. Looked at in a certain context, these events may allow the opportunity for judgments about certain intelligence structural tendencies that can have real-world application.

Most such attention has centered on the Foreign Intelligence Service (in Romanian, Serviciul de Informaţii Externe, or SIE): its director since 2007, Mihai Răzvan Ungureanu, was replaced on 8 February. However, rather than simply exit the political scene, the outgoing intelligence chief was promoted to the post of prime minister by President Traian Băsescu. Three weeks later, the president appointed a replacement at the SIE- the more low-profile, but much older Teodor Viorel Meleşcanu.

Mihai Răzvan Ungureanu: a Political Insider

Ungureanu, a former State Secretary and Foreign Minister, had most famously served as the head of the Romanian Foreign Intelligence Service from November 27, 2007 until February 8, 2012. (The structure and activities of this and the other Romanian security services were discussed in a report of April 2011).

During his SIE tenure, Ungureanu was ostensibly non-partisan and still claims to be an independent. Yet earlier this month, he told Romanian media that he was open to joining a political party in future and would like to continue in government to contest November 2012 elections.

Mihai Răzvan Ungureanu is a man of broad academic and political experience. According to his official Curriculum Vitae, posted on the government’s website, the new prime minister was born on 22 September 1968 in Iaşi, and is married with one child. He developed certain international connections early on, receiving in 1993 a Master’s Degree from the Centre for Jewish and Hebrew Studies at St. Cross College, University of Oxford. Later, in 2004, he received a PhD from the Faculty of History at Alexandru Ioan Cuza University in Iaşi. Between 1992 and 1998, he was a teaching assistant at the Faculty of History, at the same university in Iaşi, and since 2007 has served as a professor there. Ungureanu has also published a number of history books.

Based on this background and relative youth, it would seem unusual that such a figure would advance so rapidly into the highest levels of political and security administration in a fairly large country like Romania. Yet in the interim, Ungureanu has been active in politics and diplomacy, primarily involved with the National Liberal Party (PNL) and often mentioned in Romanian media as a close supporter of President Băsescu, who again had appointed Ungureanu to the SIE post in November 2007 (this appointment was confirmed by the Parliament in the following month).

Ungureanu began his diplomatic career in 1998, between December 2004 and March 2007 serving as Romania’s Minister for Foreign Affairs. During this period, he was a member of the National Liberal Party but after leaving the MFA in 2007 claimed to have ‘suspended’ his membership in the party. More recently, Crin Antonescu, the president of the PNL declared that Ungureanu does not represent it in the new government.

Another professional experience which was used to defend Ungureanu’s fitness for the SIE job was his brief position as deputy coordinator of the Southeast European Cooperative Initiative (SECI), a Vienna-based multinational entity formed by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe and the OSCE. On its website, SECI acknowledges that “it relies on a dense network of affiliations and collaborators through which it further contributes to the regional efforts for sustainable development and integration and the bridging of remaining obstacles to cooperation and development in South East Europe.”

The SECI Center (now dubbed SELEC) is based in Bucharest, however, and is charged primarily with fighting organized crime and illegal trafficking. SECI/SELEC is well known as the prime venue in Romania where foreign law enforcement and intelligence specialists from a variety of countries can compare notes. In an important interview with Ungureanu that will be discussed below, he stated that while at SECI – that is, well before becoming SIE chief – he did “have access to confidential information through the representatives of the states involved,” but however “was not involved operationally.” He rather characterized his experience and SIE tenure as “managerial” in nature.

Unclear Events Pointed Out in the Media

A number of hazy events in recent years have led rival politicians and anti-Băsescu media to allege Ungureanu of having operated on the president’s behalf from 2007-2012, leading some critics to argue for a misuse of the SIE for political reasons. This has had to do both with controlling access to information and allegations of election influencing.

First, for readers who may not be aware of the media-political relationships in Romania, some context here will be useful as it may have implications for critical evaluation of the sources. Although the following study draws quite considerably on the direct commentary of the main persons discussed, a number of important secondary sources come from media such as the newspaper Jurnalul National, which is very anti-Băsescu/PNL and anti-PDL (Democratic Liberal Party). However, this newspaper, a holding of Intact Media Group (founded by wealthy businessman and Conservative Party senator Dan Voiculescu), also publishes articles critical to the opposition.

For years now, the PDL and PNL/Băsescu have accused Jurnalul National and Antena 3 TV (another Intact Media Group holding) of following the directives of Voiculescu, which they deny. Băsescu is in a continuous war with these media companies and with the journalists in general.

Generally, Romanian media does not discuss these problems much, with very few exceptions. There have been cases of journalists dismissed for their anti-Băsescu or anti-PDL/anti-government attitude. The most notorious examples were Oana Stancu, Adrian Ursu and Ravan Dumitrescu, who were dismissed from Realitatea TV– and later hired by Antena 3. This is probably the only domestic television channel critical of the people in power right now. For her part, Oana Stancu writes now in Jurnalul National. A very limited discussion about the freedom of media can be found in a January 2012 report from the European Journalism Centre. In the big picture, the freedom of media and alliance of media discussion is very complicated and confusing, with accusations and counter-accusations from each part, all of which are very hard to prove.

The first case relevant to the present study (which occurred in 2007, but even before Ungureanu was promoted to the SIE) in which he was allegedly involved, reported Ziare, was the ‘scandal’ of two Romanian workers accused of espionage and arrested in Iraq. On February 2, 2007, then-Prime Minister Călin Popescu Tăriceanu (also of the National Liberal Party) asked Ungureanu to resign from the MFA; Tăriceanu was angry that he had only found out about the arrests through the media (not to mention three months after the fact), whereas President Băsescu had been informed immediately and in private. Many in the media have thus considered that Ungureanu was the ‘man of Băsescu’, as Revista 22 put it recently.

Some Romanian media have followed the same line of reasoning to argue that ‘Traian Băsescu is leading Romania through the secret services,’ as put it on 6 February, when Ungureanu was given the nod by President Băsescu to form the new government. Over the next few days Ungureanu negotiated the future composition of the cabinet with the political parties- only officially resigning his SIE post on 8 February. Many critical politicians and journalists argued that it was actually against the law for a secret service director to simultaneously become politically active in forming a government.

Obviously, the new prime minister does not share these negative opinions about himself- in a television interview of 2010 that will be discussed below, he vehemently denied politicization of the SIE by the president as common conspiracy theorizing. Still, in the important HotNews interview discussed in the following section, he does make a comment that is quite interesting on this point. “When I took over the foreign affairs portfolio I already had experience as state secretary and had already been involved in a political and diplomatic activity that had sometimes and somehow got connections with the activity of the special services,” he said in 2009. “Taking this into account as well as my management role at the helm of this institution, the question of [gaining leaders’] trust has never been raised.”

There were a couple of other SIE-related ‘scandals’ from the time of Ungureanu’s directorship. One involved the results of the last presidential elections (2009). Critical media have since voiced suspicions of illegal SIE involvement in the campaign of Traian Băsescu, interestingly, within the Romanian communities abroad). However, the alleged use and misuse of these diaspora groups was not sufficiently clarified and remains a subject of unresolved interest.

The Syrian Affair

A second affair that predates Ungureanu’s SIE career – but that reportedly had an espionage element – was the Omar Hayssam scandal, which was widely discussed in the Romanian and even international media.  This Syrian-born financier active in Romania since having been a student in the Communist days was sentenced by a Romanian court (in absentia) to 20 years’ jail time for allegedly plotting the 2005 kidnapping of three Romanian journalists in Iraq. According to a website covering Romanian special forces, the journalists were liberated by the SIE’s elite, ultra-secret counter-terrorism group. According to the website, the group was created in 1998 and trained by the US Delta Force and consists of 12-15 men.

The journalists were held as prisoners for almost two months, with their Iraqi captors unsuccessfully demanding that Romania withdraw its troops from the country. When Hayssam was soon arrested in Bucharest, the truth of the matter came out: rather than being a kidnapping with political or religious motivations, it was uncovered as having actually been an opportunistic stunt.

According to later reports, the Syrian had hoped to shield himself against looming criminal charges, by surreptitiously kidnapping the journalists and then interceding to win their release, presumably thus becoming a public hero. However, after this plot was discovered, the Syrian nonetheless escaped the country following temporary home leave in July 2006- an embarrassment which forced the resignation of Gheorghe Fulga, the SIE chief at the time, reported Reuters.

On July 21, 2006, Jurnalul National disclosed the details of the internal political deliberating that in an instant transformed the security leadership in the country, due to the Hayssam scandal. After a three-hour meeting with President Băsescu, Gheorghe Fulga (who had directed the SIE since February 2001), Radu Timofte, director of the SRI domestic intelligence service (also since February 2001) and Virgil Ardelean, director of the DGIPI criminal intelligence service since 1998 all resigned. However, Prime Minister Tăriceanu did not accept the resignation of Ardelean, who remained in office until 2007.

On the surface, it was this tumultuous case that paved the way for Ungureanu, at that time minister of foreign affairs, to take over at the SIE- though there was an eight–month period of indecision in which General Silviu Predoiu, Claudiu Saftoiu, and then Predoiu again served as interim directors. (At the moment, Predoiu has returned as deputy director). However, Ungureanu may have already had an intelligence-related role in the Hayssam affair. In fact, Ziua recently reported that in 2006 Ungureanu intervened on behalf of a lawyer who was himself representing ‘an Israeli lobby group,’ to be allowed to talk several times with Hayssam in his jail cell, “without even obtaining the approval of the case prosecutor.”

The article draws on the testimony of Lieutenant Colonel Nicolae Ulieru, “one of the closest persons to Virgil Măgureanu and the longest serving Spokesman for the SRI.” (Măgureanu himself had been SRI chief from 1990-1997 and was before that on the military tribunal that sentenced the Ceaușescus to death). In the article, Ulieru contended that he had two years earlier “exposed” the plan of President Băsescu to eventually form a PNL-PDL government under Ungureanu, and that “this is the reason why Mihai Razvan Ungureanu accepted the position of Head of SIE in 2007, moving from PNL to the party once run by Traian Băsescu.”

Ulieru comments in the article on a very murky incident that allegedly took place in Iasi, and involved the interference of a foreign intelligence service in the dismissal of an SRI officer. The Ziua article concludes by noting that “the episode mentioned above confirms that Mr. Ungureanu belongs to a foreign intelligence service. Mr. Ulieru also offered to give all the information items he holds in front of a Parliament Commission.” In the article, the SRI colonel implied that it was strange for such a relatively young politician to serve in turns as foreign minister, SIE chief, and prime minister. Whatever the truth of the matter may be, the feud may be indicative of competition (as will be noted in another case below) between the SIE and SRI, as well as between different generations of SIE leadership and staff, something that is endemic and not unnatural in most countries with similarly structured security bodies.

Oil, the Austrians, Close Connections and ‘National Security’ in the Black Sea

The new Romanian prime minister has not had a very easy time of it lately, with hostile media also accusing him of conflict of interests due to his wife’s relations with OMV Petrom, the biggest oil company in Romania, and a subsidiary of the OMV Group which, like the SECI entity he used to head, is based in Austria. The business strategies of the parent company are far more significant for regional business and political interests than simple nepotism allegations, however.

In December 2007, a few days after Ungureanu became director of the SIE, his wife, Daniela (an anesthesiologist by training) became a member of the Board of Directors of Petromed Solutions, a firm belonging to OMV Petrom. According to Jurnalul National, Daniela Ungureanu received 225,000 euros (about 7,000 euros per month) between 2009 and 2011 from Petromed.

The apparent issue with this was that Mr Ungureanu made no specification regarding this affair in his declarations of interests during his tenure as intelligence chief. In February-March 2012, however, Ungureanu declared that his wife was a ‘medical consultant’ for Petromed, involved in a ‘social project’ of the company. At the same time, however, OMV Petrom representatives, responding to a clarification request from Jurnalul National said that she is a member of the board of directors of Petromed.

In March 2012 testimony reported by Jurnalul National, Ungureanu still claimed that there is no conflict of interests between his former position as SIE director, or his current position as prime minister and his wife’s position at Petromed. Critics from media, politics or the civic society like Grupul de Investigativi Politice have argued otherwise, though. Daniela Ungureanu is still under contract with the oil company, while the Romanian government is running negotiations with Petrom on a broad range of issues, reported Jurnalul National on 13 March.

Romanian journalists Oana Stancu and Daniel Ionascu have argued that this is a matter of ‘national security’ as OMV and Exxon are prospecting in the Black Sea, in the search for natural gas. Their representatives declared that deposits of 42 to 84 bn cubic meters of natural gas have already been identified; this equals three to six times the annual consumption of Romania. Such an energy related issue naturally comes within the purview of the SIE, the two journalists write.

Moreover, OMV Petrom has been trying for years now to export the gas extracted from Romania, which would make Romania 80% dependent on the very expensive Russian gas. This problem (among others related to OMV Petrom) has again to be addressed by the Romanian government – this time lead by Ungureanu. This is more than conflict of interests, it is a matter of national security, the two journalists claim.

New SIE Structures and Priorities Developed During the Ungureanu Period

While the new prime minister’s official CV (as of March 2012) does not mention anything about his mandate as head of the Foreign Intelligence Service, insights into his priorities, mindset, and perceptions and goals of intelligence work can be gleaned from other official sources. These include press communications from the SIE and, most helpfully, a March 2009 interview with the former director himself for HotNews – an interview which is preserved on the SIE website – and a transcript of a three-way 2010 interview for B1 TV, also carried on the SIE website. (One can say what one wants about the particularities, but at very least when it comes to providing such access to testimony from intelligence chiefs, Romania seems to be far ahead of all its Balkan neighbors).

The composite picture that emerges from these interviews is of an individual who is supremely confident, well-spoken if sometimes evasive, but who can be tempted to refer to the possession of privileged knowledge as a sort of qualitative personal advantage over other human beings.

In the first interview from 2009, journalist Vlad Mixich pressed the then-SIE director on a range of issues, resulting in one of the fuller pictures we have of contemporary Romanian intelligence from one of its chief practitioners. Averring that with recent reforms the SIE has “turned from a Dacia into a Rolls-Royce,” Ungureanu takes pains to point out that despite Romanian popular imagination, the service today is not comparable to the sinister Securitate of the old Communist regime, as the trajectory of NATO and EU reform processes has generally increased transparency, democratization and parliamentary oversight.

In the interview, Ungureanu discussed the SIE’s “clearly outlined competence in foreign intelligence-gathering” which do not involve political decision-making. At the same time, however, “the outcome of SIE’s work should be traceable in political strategies,” the director stated.

In his conception, his own SIE leadership does not necessitate “in-depth knowledge of all the intricacies of an operation,” though proper management  does require an increase in professional performance, “best use of available human, logistical, financial, credibility and PR resources and, last but not least, correctly [conveying of] information to the relevant decision-makers that are allowed by law to receive it and make best use of it.”

Aside from expressing the expected talking points about transparency, reform, and no domestic spying, Ungureanu added several comments that are quite intriguing. First was his rather optimistic and confident view of the SIE’s capacities – stating that intelligence is being collected “anyhow, anytime [and] anywhere,” while agreeing with the interviewer that a good motto for the service would be that “the end justifies the means.” In this robust worldview, SIE work is one of the “most vivid” ways a Romanian can express his or her patriotism- “to help your country irrespective of the context and risks.”

Ungureanu also characterized the SIE’s reform path since 1990 as having been characterized by both small steps, and occasionally “spectacular leaps,” largely depending on human resources and the orientation of political decision-makers during that period. One key moment was 2002, when Romania’s NATO application was approved, something that “changed Romania’s security paradigm in all its implications: ranging from the structure of the Ministry of Defense to the structure of the special services.”

Orientation Shifts to a Network Approach, and Acknowledgement of Powerful Allies and Interests

This had far-reaching implications, stated Ungureanu: “this turn in paradigm triggered a radical structural overhaul of the SIE in its entirety, and I do not mean the personnel alone, but also the structure, the scope, and the development strategies – i.e. everything an institution is supposed to mean.” The main goal of the reforms was to make Romanian intelligence services compatible to those of NATO partner countries; this apparently involved changes in structure, reflexes and mentality. Making the SIE NATO-compatible meant “deconstructing and reconstructing the service… along the lines of a mixed Western pattern,” and with significant staff turnover.

One of the interesting themes Ungureanu singled out was the change from a past known for its “autarchic regime” (e.g., the Securitate) towards one that is a “family” or “network-based” structure characterized by partnerships and mutual allied support. Romania thus became “part of a network where each component has a specificity and obvious geographically-based competences, and uses resources depending on national and allied policies.”

This is amplified in the second, 2010 television interview in which Ungureanu expanded upon his view of Romania’s strategic value and of its newfound ‘interest’ among outside players. In the interview, he makes a point of noting the excellent relations with NATO-states, complements from the US ambassador, and his own meeting in Romania with then-CIA chief Leon Panetta.

In the interview, Ungureanu also maintains that “Romania, by virtue of her current geopolitical status, is interesting to any spy institution from states that have an undisguised, strategic interest in the EU, the North Atlantic Alliance, Southeast Europe or the Black Sea area. In other words, small histories that no longer stir the interest of the media in other states because they have repeated on and on… as Romania acquires more geopolitical weight, she obviously attracts more attention of spy services. In some cases, these things are also covered by the media. In most cases, the fight is waged in the unseen areas of society.”

It is perhaps interesting that this tangent in the discussion was prompted by comments from the journalists about the now infamous case of Russian spies like Anna Chapman expelled from the US and, something that is now even more striking due to recent embarrassing events- comments made by George Friedman, the head of Stratfor. The leader of the self-proclaimed global intelligence provider (amusingly described by Ungureanu as being a “geopolitical traveller”) had apparently called on Romania in a local media interview to “become dangerous.” In the interview, the SIE chief related that he understood this friendly advice more in the sense of building a strong military than a strong intelligence service. In any case, the passage does indicate that the country’s admirers and would-be intelligence advisors are not limited to governmental officials.

He also warns of the deleterious effects budget cuts would have on the SIE’s abilities, and perhaps for this reason plays up the agency’s alleged overall importance. As such, when asked about the expanding interests of the SIE internationally, Ungureanu adds that “there are some states that have become interesting to the SIE because of their own policies, their own lists of national priority interests, their own affinities or partnerships, depending on what everyone builds – closer or farther to home.”

“However,” he adds, “there is a level of cooperation between services, even though in some cases the dialogue is harsher. But there are some fields where our interests are necessarily common”- these include organized crime, terrorism and human trafficking. When asked whether Romania cooperates with Russia too in these areas, Ungureanu confirms this but does not state, when prodded whether he has ever met his Russian counterpart. This is interesting in that it implies in Romania there might still be something taboo or untowards about any such relationship, owing to the Communist past.

Changes in Recruitment and Training Practices, Restrictions and Dangers

The recruitment trends and restrictions witnessed by Ungureanu prior to and during his tenure are also of interest for the casual observer. In the first interview from 2009, he notes that “there are no prodigies in espionage, ones that would pop up straight from universities,” and reiterates that risk is emphasized over reward to potential recruits, before getting down to a number: the goal of the SIE being “to choose eight people out of one thousand; and in the end to have only five left, after these eight have gone through the rigours of specialized training.”

Regarding recruitment, the former director went on to enumerate the qualities the SIE is apparently looking for, qualities “that develop rather with adult age than in restless youth,” and which include intelligence, adaptability to any context and “a quite different mindset, particular brains and particular strength necessary for one to work abroad under several aliases.” Further, he cautioned that there is an “ethical benchmark” candidates should keep in mind, and that is “a significant curb [on] individual liberties: ranging from the freedom of circulation to the free choice of feelings, free dialogue and free will. It is a quasi military discipline where the rules are non-negotiable.” All of these are subservient, he maintains, to “national interest.”

Ungureanu added another comment that offers further intriguing insight into the SIE’s particular worldview. He noted that the job “sorts out values very well, exactly because the professionalism indicator – i.e.the quality of the information – is measurable. You do not measure information; you measure the quality of information and its real effect, its ability to predict and understandability. When you follow such precise criteria you can almost surgically cut between the very best, the average and the improvable [candidates]. With the specification that the improvable have got a chance because you never know what or whom you may run into.”

In the 2009 interview, Ungureanu also states his confidence in an “intelligence elite” carrying out training and that the existence of this is in some way impervious to politicization.  As of 2009, he states that “we have a lot of young people in the apparatus” of collecting information from abroad and turning “quantitative information into quality intelligence.” With “a lot” of young Romanians apparently having received “extensive and serious experience abroad” as of 2009, “we are the ones providing recruitment and foreign operational expertise to other partners in NATO.” Ungureanu finally characterized the SIE as a ‘powerful’ intelligence service.

In the 2010 television interview, he adds more details about the professional restrictions of SIE agents during and after their career. This commentary develops from questions about economics and budget cuts- the implied question being how they could affect morale and integrity.

Ungureanu notes that SIE employees’ status as state workers means their wages depend on levels of professionalism and competence, but differs from other civil servants in that they are “special”- and “not only because they conduct a totally different activity that no one else in the Romanian state does, i.e. espionage, but also because, at the beginning of his or her contract and until his or her contract terminates, each employee is subject to a whole series of restrictions that no other employee of the Romanian state must endure.”

These restrictions include having no other jobs or engagements and that “absolutely everything related to his or her private life is subject to the corporate regulations,” including any association with foreign and sometimes even Romanian citizens. After retirement, these people “have to make a pledge that everything they know can never and shall never be disclosed… they have no chance of having a business telephone, a business car, a holiday bonus, Easter holiday, a place to live provided by the Service – no chance at all.”

Ungureanu appears to have been emphasizing this Spartan existence in reference to rationalizing against budget cuts; that they “should be adjusted to the restrictions that special categories of employees of the Romanian state must endure on a voluntary basis once they signed a contract with the state.” The other argument for this (not specifically expressed) is that underpaid employees represent a serious potential liability as they become prey to better-funded foreign competitors and thus drive up the costs of internal counterintelligence.

Indeed, when asked whether budget cuts have led to “HR problems,” Ungureanu replied that the “corporate culture” of the SIE is somehow unique among other Romanian services, providing its own morale. As in the 2009 interview, he reiterates that only about eight of 1,000 candidates are accepted, and that the SIE receives “about 2,000 applications a year.” The perceived motivating factor of these young recruits is said to be “patriotism” with other “professional incentives” being that the work is “extremely risky, full of danger for one’s own life, but it is very interesting, very, very interesting.” Finally, he maintains that the professional skills learned by SIE men and women make them employable in other capacities after retirement.

There is a dark side, however. Ungureanu amplifies this by attesting that during his tenure an undisclosed number of Romanian spies were assassinated- contrasting the average MFA employee’s involvement with “abstract things” to the SIE officer’s engagement with “people.” When the SIE agent is active abroad, “he is a criminal outside the Romanian borders. That’s the risk.”

The broad sweep of the former director’s rhetoric in the two interviews thus indicates that the Romanian agency has indeed taken a new higher profile, with the repeated “but few are chosen” type quips meant to resonate romantically in the broader social discourse, as well as to serve as a sort of fundraising tool, perhaps.

New SIE Outreach- with Academia

New approaches to recruitment with foreign influence have been indicated in other official documentation. Towards the end of Ungureanu ‘s mandate, a February 2011 press release from the SIE seemed to indicate again the new experience of a network-oriented approach drawing on allied practices, as had been voiced by the director two years earlier.

The press release chronicled the signing of a protocol of cooperation between the SIE and the University of Bucharest, granting MA students from the university the chance to undertake an “OSINT internship programme” which apparently would provide te chance “to acquire practical experience – which supplements the experience of university studies – in a field of activity reserved for elite professionals.”

Billed as a first for Romania, this seems most closely to be a domestic adaptation of certain post-9/11 ‘synergies’ formed typically in the US and Great Britain in the suddenly lucrative field of ‘intelligence studies.’ The new cooperation of state security and academia may develop in both more formal ways, but also for patronage, entitlement and as part of a relatively new business model in the Western world. It is a low-risk, high-reward model, with ‘OSINT’ practice being safe, straightforward and perhaps informative to higher-ups seeking to observe cognitive skills of young potential recruits (before they know that they might be recruits).

According to the press release, the SIE’s two annual internship programmes would take place in the periods of June-July and July-August, and be limited to four students who have finished “the first year of their MA programme in law, philosophy, history, journalism, foreign languages and literatures, political sciences, communication sciences, and who are Romanian citizens and residents having no criminal record, and having received BA graduation exam marks of over 8.50, and MA entrance exam marks of over 8.50. Preference would be given to “those MA students who are interested in the fields of geo-politics and international relations [and who] have strategic thinking skills and speak foreign languages.”

Beginning of a New Era: The SIE’s New Director, Teodor Viorel Meleşcanu

On 28 February 2012, Teodor Viorel Meleşcanu took over as director of the SIE.  His official, and brief CV (see page 6) is provided by the webpage of the Chamber of Deputies of the Romanian Parliament, though the SIE website now also has one for him and his deputies as well here (under ‘Leadership’). The new director is decidedly more ‘old-school’ than his predecessor. Born in 1941, Meleşcanu graduated in 1964 from the Faculty of Law of the University of Bucharest, in 1973 obtaining a PhD in political science and international law from the University of Geneva. He is also a professor at the University of Bucharest and published many books dealing with topics concerning international law and diplomacy.

In 1966 he started his diplomatic career at the ministry of foreign affairs. Between1992-1996 Meleşcanu was minister of foreign affairs, while between 2007 and 2008 he served as minister of defense. He was also three times elected as senator, as a candidate of the National Liberal Party.

Teodor Meleşcanu was an important member of the PNL until President Băsescu designated him director of the SIE in February 2012. Accepting Băsescu’s proposal, Meleşcanu declared his suspension from the PNL and its activities. Yet while the SIE has a new director, the retention or reactivation of certain ‘old hands’ indicates that there will be no major policy changes or reorientations from the top.

Still, Meleşcanu’s designation for SIE generated a small political crisis, as reported on February 28th. Critical politicians and journalists alike argued that through this move, Băsescu was seeking to strike once more against the political opposition. In his first speech given as head of the SIE, Meleşcanu declared that “the main objective [of Romania] is the correct organization of the local and parliamentary elections” and that “I hope that there are the necessary means to prepare the elections.” In light of the many national and international security issues going on all the time, the preoccupation of the new director of the SIE with elections was considered by many in Romania at very least to be not a mix-up of priorities, or even suspicious.

Meleşcanu was often accused (without presenting any proof, though) of having been an officer of the communist secret service, Securitate. recalls that Mihai Răceanu, a former diplomat in Ceauşecu’s time, argued in his book Infern, 1989 that Meleşcanu was an undercover officer of the Securitate: oddly enough, President Băsescu himself formulated such an accusation against Meleşcanu 12 years ago.

On 28 February, Meleşcanu again rejected the accusations that he had worked for the secret services before or after 1989. On the same day, he declared that the SIE’s other priority now is to attract EU money for Romania- another interesting goal for an intelligence service, but one not entirely dissimilar from the objectives hinted at by his predecessor.

While no proof has ever been forwarded about Communist collaborations, and while it may no longer even be relevant, the Romanian parliament is apparently still taking a keen interest in housekeeping matters relating to it. On 28 February 2012, the parliament adopted – without the participation of the opposition – a law on lustration. The timing of the bill and its special provisions have correlations with the recent game of musical chairs at the SIE, it turns out.

According to the initial text of the law the former leaders of the Union of the Communist Youth and the former diplomats of the communist regime could not be appointed in public positions for five years from the adoption of the law. On 28 February, though, Mircea Toader (Liberal Democratic Party) asked his fellow deputies to amend the text of the lustration law.

According to the accepted amendments Mihai Răzvan Ungureanu (former alternate member of the Central Committee of the Union of the Communist Youth) and Meleşcanu (former diplomat of the communist regime) no longer come under the law and its restrictions. For his part, Ungureanu has declared it ridiculous that his nominal relationship with the Communist youth could have any significance, considering his young age at the time.

Analysis: Reforms, Reorientation, a Regional Role

It is abundantly clear from the above study that since 1990 the Romanian Foreign Intelligence Service has made real reforms and steered a new course, tempered by the new political system realities in the country and in the world.

It is also clear that it continues to aspire, along with other Romanian security agencies, to more prestigious positions in the region and wider world. In the recent past, this has involved priority placement of representatives at international, NATO-related intelligence events, particularly when it is known in advance that representatives of ‘rival’ domestic agencies will also be present, even when their presence has made no difference whatsoever in terms of contributing to discussions, and even despite occasional violations of the non-disclosure of SIE employment clause to foreigners. And this is not merely an observation on the part of the authors, but based on the filtered testimony of Western intelligence officials who have watched the dynamic play out closely over time.

Speaking of the Balkan region in particular, it is clear that Romania sees itself as being one of the more important and engaged countries for the future of the region, particularly with the imminent draw-down in size of Western aid missions and even the closure or reduction of Western diplomatic missions in the region- the curse of too much peace, apparently.

Yet significantly, this is part of the reason why Romania has tried so hard to build trust among NATO allies- a more active role in its greater backyard can also mean millions of euros in executable project funds and related consulting work through its ministries and allied NGOs and ethnic groups. Within the next decade this new interest, should it continue, may bring Romania into competition with Turkey. Although this is a competition Romania cannot win, serving the function of just “being there” as a Western surrogate might well be used by Bucharest to try and curry favor in the never-ending game of Balkan patronage and prestige.

Current Business/Political Events: Copper, Gold and Natural Gas

There are currently several large projects or planned projects in the commodities and energy fields (in addition to the above-mentioned OMV dealings) which might be discussed, as they are interesting in themselves and since they might bear some sort of relevance in the context of intelligence activities from both the SIE and foreign countries in or relating to Romania.

The first, brought up by Ziua on February 11, 2012, discusses the very controversial Rosia Montana gold mining project in Transylvania on the Hungarian border, which has been put off due to environmental concerns about cyanide drilling, raised by a wide variety of environmental and citizen groups determined not to see a repeat of the massive cyanide spill that occurred on a similar project in Baia Mare in 2000, affecting three countries. Not only big money but EU politics and international relations are at stake, as well.

The newspaper claims that the current project is strongly supported by President Băsescu, “who developed a true obsession for it, [and] is supposed now to be started again by Mihai Razvan Ungureanu, following a lack of courage of the former PM to do it.”

Further, reads Ziua, the president has told Ungureanu that this project of the Rosia Montana Gold Corporation Company in the Apuseni Mountains “should become a Government priority.” In fact, the paper notes, President Băsescu specifically invoked the need to start mining at Ungureanu’s invocation ceremony, stating that it would add jobs and wealth for the country in general. A Canada-based mining company, Gabriel Resources, owns Rosia Montana.

This company had previously been united with another, now sister company, London-based European Goldfields, which invests in gold mines in Greece, Romania and Turkey. The company characterizes its Certej mine (owned through subsidiary Deva Gold since 2006, after privatization at the time of EU membership) as “located in the ‘Golden Quadrilateral’ area of the Apuseni Mountains of Transylvania in Western Romania.” The perception of such a promised land of mineral wealth running across a wide swathe of western Romania is what makes environmentalists nervous about the greater ambitions international conglomerates have for exploiting their country. (It is also a bit ironic since Romania is currently advertising its tourism offerings on international television under the slogan of ‘explore the Carpathian garden’).

Ungureanu and his government are now also taking heat over the planned sale of a copper mining company, CupruMin Abrud. The state had taken over the company in 2009 from over the EnergoMineral group, but soon terminated the privatization plans, “due to the sudden decline in the price of copper on international markets,” reported Jurnalul National on 28 March. The company’s assets reportedly represent “60% of Romania’s reserves of copper, a deposit evaluated at 20 billion dollars.” According to Jurnalul National, the Romanian government sold CupruMin Abrud to another Canada-based company, Roman Copper Corporation for 200 million euros.

In a press release of 30 March, this company and its ultimate owner, BayFront Capital Partners, announced that it was “excited” to be involved with the Rosia Poieni copper mine. BayFront partner Mike Curtis stated that “we are delighted with our acquisition of Cupru Min through an open, transparent auction process,” characterizing it as “one of Romania’s most prestigious mining projects… [we] will bring top level expertise and resources to realize Cupru Min’s full potential.”

The unlisted and little-known Canadian company, which seems to have been created specifically for the Romanian operation by BayFront, beat out three competitors, including a major player from Australia, OZ Minerals. However, Andrew Topf of Mining.Com relates the Australian view that OZ “may have bigger fish to fry” than the Romanian company, which does not approach the importance of its major holdings worldwide.

According to both foreign and Romanian media, the privatization of the mining company was part of the conditions of Romania’s EU membership in 2006. “Roman Copper has a letter of guarantee acceptable to Eximbank, and the contract will be signed Cuprumin takeover within ten days,” reported Jurnalul National, contrasting this 200.77-million-euro privatization – an amount “nearly four times more than originally requested” – to the continued failure to privatize Electrica bănet South, despite that “Italy’s Enel have raised over 800 million.” The newspaper quotes sources who say that “the Romanian state authorities were forced [to privatize] by the International Monetary Fund.” (The IMF representative in Bucharest denied this on a television program). For his part, Ungureanu has stated that the sale of a bankrupt state company for four times its asking price indicates a financial coup and positive sign for the country.

As with the gold mine, the Rosia Poieni copper mine (which geologists also believe to contain gold) has also been criticized by environmentalists for its harmful effects on the natural world.  This has included recent protests in front of the Ministry of Economy. Vladan Florin, the head of the Office of State Ownership and Privatization in Industry (OPSPI), said recently in answer to these concerns that Roman Copper will need to invest 92 million euros, and to solve environmental problems because its waters, rich in heavy metals from the tailings pond, represent “a natural sulfuric acid factory,” said the Jurnalul National report. Nevertheless, Iulian Iancu, Chairman of the Industries of the Chamber of Deputies, characterized the tender as illegal because the necessary environmental permits had expired on December 31, 2011, “and have not been renewed because the company did not comply.”

Finally, another foreign investment project now causing protest from government opponents is the Romanian government’s decision on 29 March to allow Chevron to search for shale gas near Constanta; the Bulgarian government had previously refused the same request and plans to prevent all such projects over environmental objections. However, the Romanian government played the argument that if Romanian gas runs out (after 10 years), the country would become more dependent on Russian gas. This opens a wider geopolitical discussion with more actors and can be used to strengthen Bucharest’s hand- even though the government-supported plan of OMV’s increased exports would result in the same dependency, ironically.

Yet even here, fast-paced developments on the political scene seem to have foiled the Ungureanu government’s plans, and rattled the American investor. In response to a series of broadcasts of Antena 3 TV, Chevron Romania announced on the evening of 1 April that it is suspending exploitation of shale gas in Romania for the rest of 2012. According to the station, the Chevron representatives also stated that their company has ‘nothing against’ the declassification of the contract made between itself and the Romanian government in this respect. Therefore, it was implied that not Chevron, but the Romanian government, seeks to hide the stipulations of the contract from the public.

The political opposition, through the voice of Victor Ponta, one of the leaders of the Social Liberal Union (USL), in a press conference on April 1st accused Prime Minister Ungureanu of “giving away the resources of the national patrimony,” adding that “the mandate of the Ungureanu government has nothing to do with the interests of Romania nor, it seems, with the party interests of PDL, UNPR or UDMR either, but with interests that are foreign from Romania.” By acting ‘conspiratorially,’ Ponta declared, the prime minister “is giving away the natural and energetic resources” of the state, reported

Intrigue Continues on the Security Leadership Front

A final interesting development involves more apparent consolidation of control atop other branches of the Romanian security apparatus. On 29 March, Romania’s MediaFax “quoted official sources” as saying the DGIPI Criminal Intelligence Director, Cristian Gheorghe Latcau, is being replaced. (Latcau had served as DGIPI head since Dec 22, 2010, appointed by former interior minister Traian Igas).


“According to Democrat-Liberal sources quoted by, Premier Mihai Razvan Unugureanu is going to appoint Chief Commissary Mihai Pintilei in Latcau’s place. Pintilei is the head of the Traffic Police Department of the Police Inspectorate in Iasi, the native city of Premier Ungureanu.” However, this move could backfire, the report continues, as Ungureanu’s decision “reportedly sparked discontent in Democrat-Liberal quarters given Pintilei’s lack of experience in the intelligence field.”

Hypothetical Approaches for the Study of Intelligence Activity

The foregoing breakdown of priorities and SIE philosophy does lend itself to a favorable view of the agency and its reforms, but the facts of an alienated parliament and apparently custom-tailored laws indicate that politicization at least at upper levels is still a factor and that volatility will remain during periodic swings in power.

Still, the whole discussion of issues like lustration, and the constant framing of intelligence issues against the abuses of the Securitate, may in fact be a smokescreen, obscuring more relevant and significant dynamics. While the media sees symmetries in things like lustration law exclusions, the realities of day-to-day politics and big business – often depicted as ‘national interests’ – may have more relevance. As such, it may be more profitable therefore to ask: if the intelligence service were to indeed relapse into political, non-transparent and profiteering practices, where would the signs of such activity be?

In his 2009 interview, the current prime minister and former SIE chief noted how clearly quality intelligence could be measured; the same may be true for the professionalism and apolitical nature of an intelligence agency. An interesting litmus test for the current example could theoretically involve a contentious issue

That said, any assessment of present or future abuse of SIE mandate for a specific politico-economic purpose, such as this one is purported to be, would have to consider means, reach and use value. But also, if as Ungureanu stated, ‘patriotism’ and protecting ‘national interests’ should be key motivators for their officers, other practices as related below could be looked out for.

An auditor would firstly seek to learn whether any senior intelligence officials carried over from the different mandates have any particular expertise or interest in geology or rock science. An analysis would also seek to confirm whether SIE-related assets are in a position to either learn about or influence environmental rulings on cyanide drilling being deliberated by the EU and possibly other law-issuing entities, and relationships with public relations groups trying to make the project acceptable to the public on the local and international levels.

An investigation would also try to pinpoint and plot out the entire SIE network in London and Toronto, which are home base for the majority owner of the gold and copper companies, and perhaps in other places in Europe where the SIE is now known to have been given cover within the diaspora through NGO, academic or other positions. Assessing the activity and interest of the counterintelligence services of those countries vis-à-vis Romanians would also be a useful barometer.

Finally, it would seek to verify whether any prominent commodity traders active (or, who would be active) in the gold business in Romania have SIE ties, or whether the SIE (or the internal SRI) is keeping a close eye on such traders from abroad. It would be expected that any sudden moves or the introduction of supposed new ‘players’ on the commodities markets relative to these big investments would attract attention. If the 2006 failure to sell the copper company was due in fact to a sudden decline in copper prices on world markets, it would be natural for the SIE to seek out professionals who have a good understanding of the expected fluctuation of such prices.

Such a study might not bear fruit, not least of all because there may in fact not be any wrong-doing. But if for the sake of the example, these tactics would seem appropriate for anyone with such an interest in following the practices and identifying the role of an intelligence service in politico-economic affairs. In the end, the specific country or personalities involved are not as important as the structural dynamics and what they can teach us.

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DEA and Multi-National Police Operations Highlight Narcotics, Terrorism and Role of the Balkans

By Chris Deliso

A two-year DEA undercover operation, which played out in exotic international locales in cooperation with police forces of several states, demonstrates that the Balkans is still perceived as a safe haven for ‘business’ and logistical activities by major international terrorism and organized crime entities.

The operation, part of which came to light when arrests were made in July of 2011, resulted in November with Romania’s extradition to the US of two foreign nationals reportedly seeking to use drug money to fund weaponry for Hizbollah.

In December 2011, further charges were laid against three financial institutions allegedly linked with money laundering for Hizballah, which has come under increased scrutiny as tensions with Iran continue to increase.

The intriguing details have been revealed in press releases from the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. These documents affirm the complexity of today’s global terrorism-organized crime nexus and also, though details are not given, raise some interesting questions regarding operational activities and what can be understood from them.

On November 17, Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced the Romanian government’s extraditions of Siavosh Hehareh, from Iran, and a Turk, Cetin Aksu. The press release (.PDF) detailing the charges stated that the two had been “conspiring to provide narcotics and, in the case of Aksu, material support to Hizballah through an individual whom they believed to be an associate of Hizballah, but who was in fact, a United States Drug Enforcement Administration (‘DEA’) confidential source.” It is not clear whether the latter was an actual undercover operative or a low-level terrorist financier who had possibly struck a plea bargain to cooperate. It was also not made clear whether the accused persons were representing a larger group.

The US Attorney stated that the Turkish citizen was also charged “with agreeing to buy a deadly laundry list of weapons on behalf of an associate of Hizballah,” and added that “this case provides fresh evidence of the growing nexus between drug trafficking, weapons trafficking and terrorists, a nexus with the potential to threaten our national security.”

Operational Chronology and Details

Since the background of the DEA’s ‘confidential source’ remains unknown, as does much else about the government’s planning rationale, it is difficult to estimate whether the Balkans was chosen as a major theater for the operation because of specific pre-existing links with the persons involved, or because it was deemed an advantageous or preferable area in which to operate by the US. Probably both are true.

However, what it does show beyond doubt, by virtue of the fact that the suspicions of those charged were not aroused, is that the region is perceived as safe ground for conducting negotiations between terrorist and criminal organizations. Perhaps one effect of this operation will thus be to make such groups more cautious about operating in the region in the future.

The government indictment makes visible a timeline for the operation (though pre-planning must have been extensive and thus date the whole process back by several months or longer). Apparently, back in June of 2010, the Iranian had “a series of meetings in countries including Turkey, Romania, and Greece with DEA confidential sources (the ‘CSs’), at least one of whom represented himself/herself as an associate of Hizballah.”

These meetings and a series of phone calls thereafter, resulted in an agreement to sell “hundreds of kilograms of high quality heroin” to the supposed Hizbollah associate, with it being made clear that the profits would be used to purchase weapons for the group.

The operation became significantly bigger several months later, when as a result of these meetings, the DEA source was introduced to Aksu and another individual, Bachar Wehbe, according to the press release.

“Beginning in February 2011, in Romania, Cyprus, Malaysia, and elsewhere, Aksu and Wehbe agreed to purchase military-grade weaponry from the CSs on behalf of Hizballah. In those meetings, and in telephone calls and email messages, Aksu and Wehbe discussed the purchase of American-made Stinger surface-to-air missiles (“SAMs”), Igla SAMs, AK-47 and M4 assault rifles, M107 .50 caliber sniper rifles, and ammunition, from (among other places) an American military base in Germany.”

Then, in April 2011, the action resumed in the Balkans when the DEA source received a heroin sample (of 1kg, according to the press release) “from a co-conspirator of Henareh’s in Bucharest, Romania, in order to inspect its quality, and in anticipation of a subsequent, multi-hundred kilogram load.”

Things proceeded smoothly, and on June 13, 2011, Aksu and Wehbe “signed a written agreement for the purchase of 48 American-made Stinger SAMs, 100 Igla SAMs, 5,000 AK-47 assault rifles, 1,000 M4 rifles, and 1,000 Glock handguns, for a total price of approximately $9.5 million” in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The press release further adds that while negotiating the arms deal, Wehbe “stated that he was purchasing the weapons on instructions from Hizballah. Shortly thereafter, Wehbe and others caused approximately $100,000 to be transferred to the CSs as a down payment for the weapons purchase.”

The alleged plan was thwarted, however, when the go-ahead was given for a coordinated international police operation. Henareh and Aksu were arrested in Bucharest on July 25, 2011, while authorities in the Republic of the Maldives arrested Wehbe on the same day.

In the November 17 announcement of Romania’s extradition, Attorney General Bharara praised the “outstanding work” of several domestic and international partners. On the US side, these included the DEA’s Special Operations Division and its Country Offices in Istanbul, Kuala Lumpur, Copenhagen, New Delhi, Athens, Cyprus, and Kabul, as well as the Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs, its National Security Division, and the State Department.

Among international partners, gratitude was expressed to the Southeast European Cooperative Initiative Regional Center for Combating Trans-Border Crime (SECI), the Romanian Police, the Turkish Police, the Malaysian Police, the Hellenic Police, the Cyprus Police, and the Maldives Police Service. Among these, it would seem that the Romanian security services (discussed by earlier in 2011) had a particularly crucial role in monitoring the suspects internationally and while in the country.

Balkan Connections and Interesting Particulars

This operation shows, as stated above, that the Balkans remains fertile soil for serious organized crime and logistics planning between criminal entities and terrorist backers. Security experts have frequently made the point that the reason why little actual terrorist activities occurs in the region is precisely in order to keep the area ‘safe’ for business.

It is not surprising that Turkey and Greece were sites of such meetings as these countries have a history of being used in this regard. Malaysia, a peaceful and moderate Muslim country, also has a similar history- for example, the so-called “al Qaeda Summit” was held there in 2000. And much business from Malaysia to the Balkans, whether legitimate or illegitimate, goes through Turkey and intercessors there.

Romania is a more interesting case, as it has a much lower profile among Islamist groups. Speaking at a conference in spring 2011 in Skopje, one Romanian mufti voiced concern that an Islamic extremist fringe group was presenting a major challenge to the moderate Muslim community. However, Romanian security sources were later skeptical of the charge, and have downplayed the risk. Nevertheless, Romania too has a historic relationship with the greater Middle East and (as a recent report indicated) there are several thousand investments in the country from Iran, the main supporter of Hizballah outside of Lebanon. This relationship could conceivably give the organization ‘legitimate cover’ to operate in the country.

The most fascinating detail of the press release, however, is the stunning claim that the DEA confidential source and the alleged plotters had planned to acquire some of their desired high-tech weaponry from “an American military base in Germany.” How could the latter have expected such an implausible outcome to be attained? This might indicate that the plotters knew of, or at least assumed, that they had at least one ‘true believer’ on base, whether a local employee or even a US soldier.

While both possibilities would be alarming, the inherent complexity of removing weapons from a US military base and transiting them internationally should have set off red flags with the plotters. And their own alleged signing of written agreements and indeed discussing such arms sales by email also seems remarkably reckless. An organization as secretive as Hizbollah would be expected to be cleverer than this. But with no further testimony given as to the level of contact the plotters had with the group, it remains difficult to speculate.

It is thus not clear whether the implosion of this plot in July 2011 lent any greater urgency to Hizballah’s famed internal security service, already on high alert due to heightening tensions between Iran, the US and Israel during the course of the year, and which has been on the offensive in recent months. Most notable was the roll-up of alleged CIA sources in Lebanon revealed in November 2011 by Hizballah- widely blamed on ‘sloppy tradecraft’ on the part of the US by analysts, who noted that Hizbollah’s counter-intelligence actions have significantly affected US capabilities.

The US is also increasingly concerned about a proxy war with Hizbollah coming from Latin America, where the group has established connections for decades. The US has taken further action against the group since the Balkan weapons-for-drugs case, including a freeze on a Lebanese-Canadian bank accused of laundering money for the group through a used-car resale program to West Africa.

A December 15, 2011 press release (.PDF) outlines the case, which also drew upon the resources of the Treasury Department. The US Attorney and DEA alleged in it the existence of “a massive, international scheme in which Lebanese financial institutions, including a bank and two exchange houses linked to Hizballah, used the U.S. financial system to launder narcotics trafficking and other criminal proceeds through West Africa and back into Lebanon.”

According to the official account of the scheme, “funds were wired from Lebanon to the United States to buy used cars, which were then transported to West Africa. Cash from the sale of the cars, along with proceeds of narcotics trafficking, were then funneled to Lebanon through Hizballah-controlled money laundering channels. Substantial portions of the cash were paid to Hizballah, which the U.S. Department of State designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 1997.”

The government, which is seeking over $480 million in civil money laundering penalties from a bank and two exchange houses in Lebanon, also announced in the press release the November 2011 indictment in Virginia of an alleged Lebanese narcotics trafficker. Among the charges is “conspiracy to commit money laundering related to drug trafficking by Mexican and Colombian drug cartels.”

A lengthy discussion of the case and the bank’s connections with the Latin American drug trade was published in the New York Times in November. The account gave further details on the complexity of the operation. “In all, hundreds of millions of dollars a year sloshed through the [Hizbollah-linked] accounts, held mainly by Shiite Muslim businessmen in the drug-smuggling nations of West Africa, many of them known Hezbollah supporters, trading in everything from rough-cut diamonds to cosmetics and frozen chicken, according to people with knowledge of the matter in the United States and Europe,” reported the Times. “The companies appeared to be serving as fronts for Hezbollah to move all sorts of dubious funds, on its own behalf or for others.”

US Attorney Bharara added that the government operations are “putting a stranglehold on a major source of [Hizballah] funding by disrupting a vast and far-flung network that spanned three continents. Together with our law enforcement partners in the U.S. and around the globe, our commitment to disrupting and dismantling Hizballah and other terrorist organizations is unwavering.”

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In Romania, Opinion Polls Show Nostalgia for Communism

By Elena Dragomir

At the end of 2011, some 22 years after the fall of the communist regime, Romania seems to be going through what is probably the deepest economic and social crisis of its post-communist existence. In this context, many Romanians seem to be displaying a certain appreciation for different attributes related to the communist regime or ideology. This appreciation is always interpreted as nostalgia for the communist past and/or regime.

This article reviews the results of different public opinion surveys, which have been cited by different analysts and commentators who have identified a new communist nostalgia among certain portions of the population.  On the one hand, the positive views Romanians are expressing sometimes with regard to communism seem to be related to an acute sentiment of social insecurity; on the other, they appear to be the results of insufficient (if any) public policies addressing the problem of dealing with the legacy of the country’s recent past.

The most incredible result was registered in a July 2010 IRES (Romanian Institute for Evaluation and Strategy) poll, according to which 41% of the respondents would have voted for Ceausescu, had he run for the position of president. And 63% of the survey participants said their life was better during communism, while only 23% attested that their life was worse then. Some 68% declared that communism was a good idea, just one that had been poorly applied.[1]

It seems that as the economic and social crisis deepens, people’s nostalgia for the communist period’s perceived safeguards increases.

According to a 2006 Public Opinion Barometer of The Soros Foundation Romania, 53% of the Romanian population considered communism to be ‘a good idea.’[2] Three types of explanations were advanced in this poll: economic, ideological and experiential. According to this interpretation, from the economic point of view, it was those who suffered ‘absolute or relative losses’ due to the collapse of the communist regime that allegedly felt nostalgia for communism, and they were the poor, peasants, workers and/or low-educated.

From the ideological point of view, those who supported communism were those people who appreciated the socialist spirit of social justice that registered in the 2006 poll’s nostalgia for the past. Therefore, they positively appreciated the past communist regime because ‘they understood better something they had known.’

As far as the experiential explanation is concerned, those who have not suffered oppression during the communist regime allegedly felt in 2006 nostalgia for communism.  However, it must be emphasized that, according to the same survey, while 53% of the respondents considered communism a good idea, only 6% of them declared that they personally suffered persecutions under communism.[3]

The Public Opinion Barometer from 2007 showed that 32% of the Romanians surveyed considered at the time that ‘life was better in Romania before 1989’, a fact that was again interpreted as nostalgia for communism.[4]

Analyzing these results, Dumitru Sandu concluded that those who have felt communist nostalgia were neither older nor less educated, nor poorer, arguing instead that it was those who had lived a privileged life during the communist regime that felt in 2007 nostalgia for communism.

Sandu identified two categories of nostalgic people: approximately two-thirds (those who were not pleased with their standard of living) and the other one-third (those who were content with their lives, but were not pleased at all with the government’s accomplishments).[5]

According to a survey conducted by The Centre for Urban and Rural Sociology (CURS) in 2009, 86% of the Romanian population considered that ‘the state should provide all with a decent standard of living’, while 84% considered that ‘the state should provide all with a decent job.’

Moreover, 50% of the respondents stated that ‘the state should intervene for limiting the income of individuals’. These answers were generally interpreted as people’s attachment to ‘socialist principles’, as ‘communist mentality’ and as ‘communist nostalgia.’ Analyzing these results, Septimiu Chelcea concluded that more high-educated and young people felt nostalgia for the past in 2009 than had felt this way previously.

The survey showed that the difference between young and old, low-educated and highly-educated, active and inactive population groups have decreased in regard to people’s positive appreciation of different communist and socialist social principles.[6] Those who still find ‘some good aspects in communism’ underscored their opinions with elements that are specific to the social policies of the communist regime.

Moreover, those who still consider ‘communism a good idea’ refer to the social policies of the Communist rule. According to a CURS 1999 survey, intellectuals mostly did not support the idea of the ‘benefits’ of Communism while, according to the 2009 surveys, many had changed their minds in this regard.

The explanation for this contradiction could be that, in recent times, people have felt increasing social and economic pressures and therefore their desire for social security guarantees has increased, regardless of education levels, age or social status. In Romania social policies are currently addressing the needs of the disadvantaged social groups: the unemployed, elderly, sick etc., while the middle class is not considered as subject for social policies.

Thus, social security is not addressed from the universalistic post-war perspective, but from the limited, interwar perspective. However, in Romania, only 23 percent of the people belong to the middle class (according to a 2006 study), if the criterion taken into consideration is the level of income.[7] Therefore, the need for social security is acute in Romania nowadays, and this is the need that brings together low- and high-educated, elderly and young in ‘remembering’ – that is, reconstructing or re-imagining – the benefits of communist social policies.

A 2008 study conducted by the Agency for Governmental Strategies foresaw the results of the 2009 CURS survey in regard to the positive appreciation of the young for aspects related to the communist past. The study showed that over 30% of Romanian students considered that ‘life was better before 1989 in Romania’ because, in their opinion, the educational system and the standard of living were qualitatively superior.

This type of an answer was immediately interpreted as ‘communist nostalgia’. Sociologists, professors and journalists explained it as student ignorance: ‘they did not live during the communist period,’ or, ‘they do not know anything about the communist period;’ or, ‘they and their parents did not live the traumas of the 1950s.’[8]

Recent Surveys and Results

In 2010 and 2011, the Centre for the Study of Market and Opinion (CSOP), commissioned by the Institute for the Investigation of the Communist Crimes and the Memory of the Romanian Exile (IICCMER) conducted three opinion polls with regard to the Romanian public perception of communism.[9] The surveys were taken in:

26 August-2 September 2010 2011, from a sample of 1.133 people over 15 years old (error margin of plus/minus 2.9%);

22 October-1 November 2010, 2011from a sample of 1.123 people over 15 years old (error margin of plus/minus 2.9%);

26 April-2 May 2011from a sample of 1.125 people over 15 years old (error margin of plus/minus 2.9%

According to these surveys, about 60% of the Romanian population believes that communism was a good idea, and only 25-29% believes that it was a bad idea.

Communism was a good idea, poorly applied % Communism was a good idea, correctly applied % Communism was a bad idea % Don’t know/Don’t answer %
August 2010 47 14 27 12
October 2010 44 18 29 12
April 2011 43 18 25 14


In 2011, some 38 % of respondents considered that the installation of communism in Romania after WWII was a good thing, while another 38% said that it was a bad thing. Half of the respondents believe that they were better off under communism. 74% of those older than 60, and 64% of those aged 40-59 consider communism a good idea, compared to 49% of those aged 20-39, and 31% of those younger than 20.

In August 2010, 72% of the respondents considered that the state should provide people with jobs and 44% with housing. About 25% consider that Ceausescu was good for the country, while only 15% argue that he harmed the country. Despite these figures, 42% of the respondents considered that the communist regime was not legitimate, and 41% believed that it was a ‘criminal. About 50% acknowledged the oppression pursued by the communist regime.

While the differences in results between August 2010 and April 2011 are not big, they are significant if compared with the 2007 or 2009 polls. For instance, in 2007 some 32% of the respondents considered that ‘life was better in Romania before 1989,’ while in 2011, 50% gave the same answer. In 2006, some 53% of the respondents considered that communism was a good idea compared to 61% in 2011.[10]

According to most of the media analyses, these results attest to Romanians’ nostalgia for communism.[11]  However, the IICCMER argues that the positive perceptions of the population with regard to communism have complex explanations and are related to the people’s present experiences and personal experiences concerning the relationships between individual, state and society. To a great extent these results are explained, according to the IICCMER, by the fact that there is no organized effort for educating and informing the population with regard to the realities of communist times.

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[2] Fundaţia Soros Romania, Perceptia actuala asupra comunismului. Comunicat de presă/ [Soros Foundation Romania, Actual perception on communism. Press release], December 19, 2006, (accessed July 25, 2009)

[3] Fundaţia Soros Romania, Perceptia actuala asupra comunismului. Comunicat de presă/ [Soros Foundation Romania, Actual perception on communism. Press release], December 19, 2006, (accessed July 25, 2009)

[4] Sandra Scarlat, “Partizanii lui ‘inainte era mai bine’” [The supporters of ‘before it was better’], Adevarul, January 29, 2009

[5] Sandra Scarlat, “Partizanii lui ‘inainte era mai bine’” [The supporters of ‘before it was better’], Adevarul, January 29, 2009

[6] The survey did not focus on the communist past, but some of the survey’s questions asked people to evaluate communism as an ideology, and many Romanians continue to consider it ‘a good’ idea. Ionela Sufaru, “Romanii nu regreta comunismul” [The Romanians do not regret communism] Jurnalul National, November 7, 2009, (accessed November 7, 2009)

[7] Gabriela Neagu, Din ce clasă socială faceti parte? [To What Social Class Do You Belong?],

[8] Alina Gavrilă, “Studenţii regretă perioada comunistă” [Students regret the communist period], Adevărul, August 13, 2008


[10] Fundaţia Soros Romania, Perceptia actuala asupra comunismului. Comunicat de presă/ [Soros Foundation Romania, Actual perception on communism. Press release], December 19, 2006, (accessed July 25, 2009)


Romania-Iran Bilateral Trade: Statistics, Contacts and Companies

( Research Service)- Foreign trade between Romania and Iran is a product of the Communist period, when the volume was higher and the politics, different. Today Romania is an EU and NATO member, yet trade with the Islamic Republic continues.

Although it accounts for a statistically speaking minor part of Romania’s economy, there are over 2,500 companies in Romania with Iranian capital and in some sectors, a very noticeable presence. Also inter-governmental cooperation has increased conspicuously in the last few months. Newly imposed international sanctions on Iran may curtail this somewhat but as of yet there is no more specific information.

The following survey is based on official statistics gathered from the Romanian Ministry of Economy, Foreign Trade and Business Environment (in Romanian, Ministerul Economiei, Comertului Exterior si Mediului de Afaceri), the Ministry’s export directory, Romanian and international media and other sources.


According to official economic data, Romania imports from Iran mainly petroleum, hydrocarbons, paraformaldehyde, resins and fruits. Romania exports to Iran mainly parts and accessories for cars, tubes, furnaces and other machinery.

These areas reflect Romania’s general exports. June 2011 figures indicate that in 2010 Romanian exports of machine building industry parts (electrotechnics included), together with metal and metal products, combined to equal 57% of total exports.

In 2010 (based on provisional data from the government), the value of Romania’s exports to Iran stood at 116.2 million euros- an increase of 32.76% over the previous year’s 87.5 million euros. In 2009, the export to Iran represented 0.30% of Romania’s total export and in 2010 0.31%. In 2010 the value of imports from Iran was just over 32 million euros, compared with 16.9 million euros in 2009- a very substantial increase. However, in the bigger picture, imports from Iran in 2009 represented just 0.04% of Romania’s total imports, and in 2010 just 0.07%.

In 2010, the value of Romania’s imports from Iran stood at 21.4 million euros (0.10% of Romania’s total imports), compared with 22.3 million euros in 2011 (0.08% of Romania’s total imports).

According to an October 2011 press communiqué from the Ministry of Economy, in 2010 Romanian-Iranian trade reached the total value of $196.4 million. In the first 7 months of 2011 this value was at $154.1 million, of which the Romanian exports represented $122.19 million, meaning an increase of 71% in comparison with the same period of the year 2010.


Bilateral friendship groups exist in both the Romanian and Iranian parliaments. In the Iranian parliament, the president of the group is Ahmad Nateqnoori Lakson of the Health and Medical Education Commission. A delegation of this group visited Romania relatively recently, from May 9-13, 2011, traveling from Teheran via Frankfurt and arriving in Bucharest at 1:30pm on Sunday the 8th. On April 6, the Iranian side had disclosed that “unexpected developments” had caused the visit to be changed from the originally agreed date of May 2-6.

Details of this trip are visible on a photocopied email from Iran’s Embassy in Bucharest (.PDF). The specialized interests of the various members are indicative of the kind of sectors in which Iran sees opportunities with Romania.

On May 9, 2011, during the visit, Iranian group leader Ahmad Nateqnoori Lakson disclosed that Iran wants closer commercial relations with Romania in fields such as natural gas and oil, and that “we want to benefit from Romania’s access to the Black Sea,” according to a press release.

For his part, the vice-president of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce of Romania, Sorin Dimitriu, added that sectors such as research, academic and cultural exchanges, road infrastructure, fossil fuels and, green energy are attractive and could be profitable for Iranian investors. The bilateral state relations should focus more on these sectors, Dimitriu declared.

The Iranian delegation visiting Romania in May 2011 was comprised of: Ghasem Mohammadi (Agriculture, Water & Natural Resources Commission); Ali Motahari and Hamidreza Fouladgar (both of the Industries & Mines Commission); Samad Fedaee (Social Commission); Seyyed Salman Zaker (Legal Commission); Saed Javad Zakari (Expert/Secretary); Khasi Poor (General Director for Trade Affairs, Iran Chamber of Commerce), and other officials.

For its part, the Romanian parliamentary friendship group with Iran is led by Horea-Dorin Uidoreanu (National Liberal Party/PNL), who has been president of the group since March 30, 2010. Other members of the parliamentary friendship group with Iran include: its vice-president, Ciprian-Florin Luca (Social Democratic Party/PSD); Mihaela Stoica (Democratic Liberal Party/PDL); Ion Ariton (Democratic Liberal Party/PDL); Tinel Gheorghe (Democratic Liberal Party/PDL); Mircia Giurgiu (independent); Teodor Viorel Melescanu (National Liberal Party/PNL); Oana Tohme Niculescu Mizil Stefanescu (Social Democratic Party/PSD); Constantin Tamaga (Social Democratic Party/PSD); and Verestoy Attila (Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania/UDMR).

Interestingly, several of these members belong to similar groups with other Muslim states. For example, Attila is secretary of the Romanian parliamentary friendship group with Jordan, and a member of the Saudi Arabia and other similar friendship groups, while Uidoreanu is also vice-president of the Romania-Lebanon friendship group, and belongs to other similar groups. Stoica is also a member of the Romanian Friendship parliament group with Iraq and other groups, while Melescanu is also a member of the Romanian Friendship parliament group with Egypt, and other groups. Stefanescu is also on the Romania-Lebanon friendship group and other groups.

It is natural to expect that, given these associations, such individuals would attract the attention of domestic and foreign intelligence services wishing to learn more about the political, social and economic dynamics in these countries. However, only private data exists regarding this possibility.


According to data from the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in 2008 some 2,524 joint ventures with Iranian capital existed in Romania. Iran was in 38th place in terms of countries making foreign investments in Romania. However, such figures may not reflect real totals are third-country or indirectly registered companies/investors may play a role too, mostly Russian joint ventures.

Official economic data (.PDF) from the Romanian government showed that as of December 31, 2010 Iranian investors (by country of residence) had a share in 2,616 companies in Romania, representing 1.51 of the foreign companies in the country. Altogether they had a subscribed capital of 14.6 million euros. By September 30, 2011 (.PDF), the number of such companies had increased slightly (to 2632), though the other figures had dropped (1.48% of businesses, and 11.7 million euros.

The distribution and amount of companies involved with Romania-Iran trade also creates an opportunity for espionage, though details are equally scant. There are few prominent businesses in Romania with direct Iranian ownership. However, one of the main producers and distributors of cereals in Romania, Agricover Group, is owned by Iranian investors. Its turnover in 2010 was 153 million euros.

On March 31, 2011, reported that Iranian businessman Kanani Jabbar owns 90% of the capital of Agricover SA. Jabbar also reportedly holds a Romanian passport. Further, Ziarul Financiarul reported on March 30, 2011 that the Agricover group is owned by “Iranian investors who also own the Prodal ’94 company.” The financial magazine had previously reported in December 2008 that Prodal ’94 is “controlled by the Iranian group ICB, the same group that owns Agricover.”

Interestingly, Prodal ’94 is the Romanian producer of Stalinskaya Vodka and Wembley Dry Gin. A May 2010 article by PMR, a British-American company that provides market data for investors in Central and Eastern Europe, notes that Stalinskaya “currently accounts for a 38% share of the vodka market in Romania in terms of sales value, and Wembley [accounts for] a 47% share of the gin market, according to Nielsen.” Along with Prodal ‘94, the ICB group is comprised of Granddis (distribution) and Bere Spirt Turnu-Severin (a distillery). “All three companies are majority-owned by Romanian citizens of Iranian origin,” adds PMR.

Index and Conclusions: Romania’s Top Trade Partners

Data as of June 2011 indicates that the first 10 countries in Romania’s export are: Germany (18.5%); Italy (13.3%), France (7.5%); Turkey (6.7%); Hungary (5.7%), Great Britain (3.2%); Netherlands (3%), Bulgaria 3.5%; Spain (2.5%), and Poland 2.6%.

Regarding imports, the first 10 countries for Romania’s imports are: Germany (16.5%); Italy (11.6%); Hungary (8.5%); France (5.9%); China 4.5%; Austria (3.9%); Turkey (3.5%); Poland (3.7%); Russian Federation (4.7%), and Kazakhstan (4.6%).

However, it should be noted (from data as of December 31, 2009) Romania did not enjoy a positive balance of trade with any of these countries. In fact, it only did in regards to certain states in Africa, the Middle East and the Gulf, several of which have or may have new regimes and/or social unrest not conducive to investment and a positive business climate in general. The most important trade partner was the United Arab Emirates, followed by Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Iraq and Iran.

Thus while none of these countries is crucial to the Romanian economy, taken together the current upheaval affecting many of these countries will certainly require new strategies and transformations in Romania’s relationship with new leaderships and emerging businessmen.

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Anti-Corruption Efforts at the EU Level: Achievements as Policy Goal, Challenges as Policy Tools

Editor’s note: With corruption viewed as a major obstacle for the EU integration of Western Balkan states, considerable political focus is being placed on the topic. This perceptive article exposes some of the often overlooked cultural divergences of public perception and reaction to corruption, and policy flaws that have perpetuated it, at the heart of the issue.

By Geanina Turcanu in Vienna*

Parliamentary representatives of EU members old and new – Spain and Austria, Slovenia and Romania – seemed to have flocked together as (corrupt) birds of a (democratic) feather, as the now famous Sunday Times investigation disclosed in March 2011. The British newspaper’s undercover reporters, pretending to be lobbyists, alleged that Spanish MEP Pablo Zalba, Slovenian MEP Zoran Thaler, Austrian MEP Ernst Strasser and Romanian MEP Adrian Severin were prepared to take bribes in return for political favors.

Yet the already notorious lobby scandal is not the focus of the current analysis. Rather, it serves to raise interest in what is an emerging trend: political consensus around a perception of corruption as a policy goal common to old and new member states, and thus an inherent demand for common tools.

Anti-Corruption Efforts Old and New: an EU Policy in the Making?

The direction of this trend is unclearly defined, and will remain so as long as societal perceptions of corruption (fuelled by corresponding informal checks and balances) continue to vary across (as well as between) old and new member states. Since tackling corruption is considered such an important criterium for integrating the Western Balkans into the EU, its development will have to be watched closely.

The Stockholm Programme pioneers an EU mandate to fight corruption where security challenges are at stake, namely financial interests and cross-border crime. The Lisbon Treaty even grants tackling commonalities through an institutional avenue: the European Public Prosecutor’s Office.

Still, interpretations of the EU corruption vocabulary differ – in light of inherited social codes. The 2009 Special Eurobarometer Attitudes of Europeans towards corruption indicated worrisome levels of concern (78%) in both new and old member states. However, the survey measures a proxy: perceptions of corruption, which are formed against pre-existing social standards.

That there are no corruption-free societies is not news; nevertheless, the difference between corruption as an exception and corruption as a rule raises a number of essential questions. For example, could corruption as a rule have been curbed through a decade-long EU conditionality? Should the Central and Eastern European former communist states that recently joined the bloc have been left unsupervised, immediately after accession? Have the political elites matured enough to continue the fight against their own corrupted networks?

And, last but not least, has corresponding democratic tuition been imparted to the citizens of new member states? Did they learn when and how they can react?

Legal Framework and Common Tools

The current legal framework places anti-corruption efforts under a monopoly of legal experts. By exclusively proposing tools like police and customs cooperation, rescue services, criminal and civil law cooperation, anti-corruption efforts at the level of EU policy are channelled towards a shared legal fight against security challenges: financial and cross-border crime.

A common goal is an irrefutable achievement, but common tools are problematic as they assume similar recipients of a proposed legal solution. They give no credit to contributions from ethics, political science, sociology or anthropology- revealing striking societal differences across member states, despite EU leverage.

Investigation into structural specificities that shape societal perceptions of corruption is needed for Brussels to avoid the risk of mistaking similar symptoms for identical causes. It is customary that setting goals, which are further pursued with carefully chosen tools, are preceded by serious attempts at accurately delimiting the policy problem.

Irrefutable Achievements: Is Curbing Corruption Equivalent to a Unified EU Policy Goal?

As expected, the drive for progress towards an EU anti-corruption policy was backed by Transparency International (TI) and FLARE (Freedom, Legality and Rights in Europe); non-governmental organisations which provided support to collect signatures via their own campaigns. In May 2010, the European Parliament adopted The Written Declaration on the European Union’s Efforts to Combat Corruption.

The document was co-authored by 5 MEPs from different political groups and of different nationalities, however united by a shared legal background: Monica Macovei (EPP Group – Romania), Simon Busuttil (EPP Group – Malta), Luigi de Magistris (ALDE – Italy), Ana Gomes (SD – Portugal), and the Belgian Green Party member Bart Staes – the last an exception, being an economist. However, because corruption undermines the mere fabric of society, there is a need for further social science analyses to be commissioned.

As the Maltan MEP Simon Busuttil put it then, “this is another step in putting the fight against corruption on the EU agenda. We shall certainly be following up?’

The Lisbon Treaty opened up a window of opportunity for the EU to enforce anti-corruption legislation (Jana Mittermaier, TI), in light of which the Declaration was followed by an Anti-Corruption Public Hearing in October 2010.

Once more, Romanian MEP Monica Macovei was determined to “call upon the Commission and the Council to establish a strong and solid anticorruption monitoring mechanism in the EU” and appealed to member states “to show political will and support such an EU mechanism.” She also added that “the failure to act now puts both taxpayer’s money and the Union’s credibility at high risk. Let’s not pretend we cannot see it!”

Macovei (who served as Justice Minister in Romania from 2003) is credited for the success of the anti-corruption reforms in Romania and Macedonia. After the government reshuffling in 2007, she was Advisor to the Prime Minister of the Republic of Macedonia on anti-corruption issues.

Candidates from former communist states were assigned anti-corruption reforms through EU conditionality, in light of their problematic political inheritance. With the notable exception of a Council Framework Decision of 2003 on combating corruption in the private sector, old member states lacked a common goal, and thus common tools for curbing corruption.

A status quo, which was passed on to the new member states once their accession process was concluded, absolved them of further legal responsibility in supervising their anti-corruption policies. Post-accession empirics tend to show that anti-corruption efforts were undermined by the lack of checks and balances following the conclusion of conditionality. As various cases show, anti-corruption reformers, left unprotected, became victims of economic or political power games.

Unified Anti-Corruption Policy Tools: Challenged by Two Differing Vocabularies?

Active in the debate, anti-corruption expert Alina Mungiu-Pippidi (a political consultant at the Hertie School of Governance, Berlin) reinforces the distinction between old and new democracies. If extrapolated into old and new EU member states, the model draws attention to a key aspect for current EU policy efforts.

Corruption embraces substantially different avatars in societies organized around the principle of ethical universalism- namely, the established democracies such as older member states, than in societies organized around the principle of competitive particularism- such as a number of post-communist states, including new member states and candidate countries such as those in the Western Balkans.

Whereas in the former corruption occurs as an exception to institutionalized universalistic codes, in the latter it represents the rule according to which power groups (also known as predatory elites) divide public goods among themselves after winning electoral competitions. Ethical universalism and competitive particularism are extremes of an imagined spectrum (which does not however explain the democratic performances of Greece and Italy as old membe states, or Estonia as a newer one).

Perceptions of Corruption

Although perhaps counterintuitive, there is an indirect relationship between the level of corruption in a given state and the perception of its citizens, as follows: the higher the level of corruption among political elites, the lower the level of perception among citizens.

Thus, in patrimonialist regimes – which are very corrupt – the perception of corruption is low. As they undergo the process of democratization, citizens develop a moderate level of perception in competitive particularist regimes- which are moderately corrupt.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, fully democratic societies – which are the least corrupt – generate a high perception of corruption. This division carries essential implications for structuring anti-corruption policy efforts. Explicitly, it is necessary that recognising commonalities be complemented in new member states by preparing the soil for uprooted institutions via translation of corresponding mentalities.

Illustrative in this regard are the dysfunctionalities of the Scandinavian ombudsman, in new member states. This is a most democratic institution planted in the forms of a hostile, undemocratic mentality. Transparency International is agreed that “corruption in the EU has the following repercussions: [it] undermines good governance, the rule of law and fundamental rights, leads to the misallocation or misuse of EU resources, harms the private sector and distorts the EU internal market, the push for progress in the fight against corruption [and] considerably slows down as soon as countries become EU member states. ”

Last but not least, the NGO adds that “more needs to be done to protect people who report irregularities – whistleblowers.”

And, a summary of a September 15, 2010 European Parliament hearing on anticorruption (published on the Monica Macovei website) indicates an established causality between corruption and the EU economic crisis. Furthermore, it explored potential paths towards an EU anticorruption policy, and a mechanism to monitor its implementation in the member states. It lacked references to petty corruption, in education and health.

Crafting New EU Policy Between Divergent Democracies, and Challenges for Civil Society

That the Swedish are also dissatisfied with the performance of national anti-corruption policy does not make Sweden a corrupt state. Instead, it does show that the Swedish are democratically literate.

Specifically because in older democracies public goods such as order, rule of law, health, education and so on are distributed impersonally among citizens, any infringement upon them is signaled as a danger. On the contrary, in new democracies, social status (i.e., the distance from the group in power) sets the standard for public resource acquisition.

In older democracies, citizens lose trust in politicians on account of their perceived failure to mitigate cases of corruption in the private sector. In new democracies, citizens lose trust in politicians because the private sector is “a fiction,” designed to provide a legal framework for leaders to engage in rent-seeking behavior.

If citizens’ attitudes motivate anti-corruption policy (as indicated by the 2009 Eurobarometer), then in-depth country analyses from interdisciplinary perspectives need to step in for the search for tools. Mungiu notes that civil society as an anti-corruption actor undertook successful initiatives during the pre-membership conditionality period in new member states.

Ironically, however, with accession, these groups lost their financial support and thus impact. Left unprotected, reformers became victims of the power games they regulated. The consequence was the dissolution of a fragile democratic mentality in the making.

Equally significant is that Mungiu draws attention to the substantial amounts of money wasted on campaigns in the public sector instead of empowering citizens. Sharpening anti-corruption awareness seems to be still competing with internalized expectations of being treated similarly to those sharing one’s status.

At the end of the day, the question remains: would curbing corruption bring a better life to citizens in new member states, compared to simply joining the existing corrupted networks? In a nutshell, whereas most old member states rely on an institutionalised politico-judicial maturity, complementary checks and balances must be added to curb anti-corruption in some newer ones.


*Geanina Turcanu is a political analyst with interests in EU policy, legal issues and the Balkans. She is currently serving as a Project Assistant at the University of Vienna, and is an admin and writer for the Bucharest BabelBlog.

Geanina earned an MA in Political Science from Central European University in Budapest, and was previously in Valencia’s Polytechnic University as an Erasmus student in the Faculty of Management and Business Administration. She also holds a BA in International Relations and European Studies from the Faculty of European Studies at Babeş-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. In addition to her native Romanian, Geanina speaks English, Spanish and French.