Romania's New Premier Holds to Reform Program
Despite union protests, Bucharest pursues radical economic reforms in order to secure Western aid
INTERNATIONAL agreements vital to Romania's economic reform are in jeopardy because of the violent protests, led by coal miners in Bucharest, that forced the country's prime minister to resign 10 days ago.Romania is in the middle of a difficult transition from the most centralized economy in Eastern Europe under former communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu to a free-market economy. Miners protesting rising unemployment and soaring inflation generated by swift reform argued that Prime Minister Petre Roman wasn't paying enough attention to workers' declining living standards. But President Ion Iliescu has appointed Theodor Stolojan, a former finance minister, to form a coalition government to continue Mr. Roman's reforms. The Romanian government has applied to Western institutions for financial help. But some of these institutions, confronted with massive demands from other Eastern European countries, say they will only help governments that meet certain "performance criteria," according to the International Monetary Fund. But meeting those criteria often means rapid inflation and other economic strife that then fosters political problems. For now, $750 million in international support for Romania is on hold, according to outgoing Finance Minister Eugen Dijmarescu. Agreements have been delayed until the new government presents its program. But Mr. Stolojan, who said at a news conference that he will carry out Roman's economic program, says he will ask for greater Western help. "His selection is a very clear message for everyone ... that we don't have any intention of giving in to the antireform pressures," says Vasile Secares, a vice president of the ruling National Salvation Front and rector of the National School of Political and Administrative Studies. Stolojan began negotiations Thursday to form a coalition government. The main opposition parties, pleased with the appointment of a politically independent premier, are now divided over whether Stolojan's cabinet should be composed of technocrats or politicians. Radu Campeanu, president of the opposition National Liberal Party, says liberals will participate in the new government only if the opposition parties representatives control it. He demands that his party be given key portfolios such as the Interior, Finance, and Justice ministries. "I do not support the [appointm ent] of Mr. Stolojan," says Mr. Campeanu, a harsh critic of Roman's government, "but I have no moral reservations. He is an honest, independent man." Stolojan began his career in finance in 1972 at the State Budget Department. He became deputy minister in the provisional government that followed the overthrow of Nicolae Ceausescu in December 1989 and was appointed finance minister in May 1990. He resigned in March after disagreeing with Roman about price liberalization. Stolojan urged withdrawal of almost all state subsidies. Stolojan has also negotiated financial help for the Romanian government. On October 1, the day he was appointed prime minister, the World Bank approved a $150 million loan for the health sector. The bank will consider discussions with Romanian authorities on a $300 million loan for structural adjustment, says Tom Hoopengardner, a World Bank official. But the new premier needs more support from trade unions, which are demanding greater protections against inflation and unemployment. "We're expecting Mr. Stolojan to consider the mistakes his predecessor has made," says Dan Mocanescu, spokesman for Alfa, a cartel of unions. "But we fear he will not do so, because he belongs to the hard core of the previous economic program," Mr. Mocanescu says. Protests could occur again if the new government fails to provide the safety net the unions want. "The miners' motivation was a social one," says Vasile Macoviciuc, philosophy professor at the Academy of Economic Studies in Bucharest and a political analyst. "Their protest was the first attempt to correct a reform program that was not built upon social realities," he says. But the miners are also upset that the working class is no longer seen as leading society, says Mr. Secares. "For 45 years they were told they are the elite. This is now vanishing and a new society is being created. They know it and they don't like it." But he also sees the recent violence as the last eruption of communism in Romania.