For most Americans, Romania evokes images of Black Sea beaches and mist-enshrouded Transylvanian mountains, home to the fictional Dracula. But for the Reagan administration and Congress, the second largest of Soviet-bloc nations has become a perennial test case of United States human rights policy.
Responding to Romania's liberal emigration quotas for Jews, the Nixon administration conferred ``most favored nation'' (MFN) trading status on Romania in 1975. Such nondiscriminatory trade status is enjoyed by only two other communist countries, Hungary and China.
But various human rights groups and members of Congress now say that despite 12 years of favorable trade treatment, Romanian human rights practices have actually grown worse.
Supporters of a measure that would suspend MFN for six months say the Romanian government has consistently restricted religious freedoms, especially among the nation's evangelical Christians, part of Romania's 100,000-member Protestant community.
``The Romanian government has hired high-powered law firms and public relations consultants to come and clean up their image with the American Congress,'' says Rep. Frank Wolf (R) of Virginia, a co-sponsor of the measure, which is attached to a House trade bill. ``But the fact remains that things have gotten worse. Romania is one of the most egregious human rights violators in Eastern Europe.''
Congressman Wolf also points to Romania's alleged role as training ground for the Palestine Liberation Organization and other terrorist groups.
Critics of the Wolf amendment say that, by restricting Romanian exports and thus further weakening the country's already depressed economy, the US would only be hurting the very people it is trying to help. After Albania, Romania has the lowest per capita income in Europe.
American importers of Romanian oil, steel, and machinery will also be hurt if trade restrictions are levied on Romania, critics say. And, they note, US exporters of coal and agricultural products could be affected by retaliatory measures. The two countries have more than $1.4 billion in bilateral trade.