Dying in the name of …?
In the second half of October a motorbike crash in Bucharest led to the death of a police officer on duty. What seemed to be merely a tragic accident turned out to be a huge political scandal. The po-liceman was part of an escort for then-Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Internal Affairs Gabriel Oprea (National Union for the Progress of Romania) who was – according to Oprea – escorted as a matter of urgency on official business.
A more in depth investigation into the incident has brought serious issues to light with regards to the way traffic police agents are “used” by their superiors. The legislation governing this matter states that the only people who are to be escorted are the President, the Prime Minister, the President of the upper house (Senate) as well as the President of the lower house (Chamber of Deputies) of Romania's bicameral parliament. An exception can be made for other Ministers only in extraordinary circumstances. When questioned about the nature of the emergency, Oprea gave an evasive answer and referred to Ministers before him, who benefited from the same privileges. His driver later revealed that he was in fact being escorted to his home when the accident occurred.
According to judicial sources, Gabriel Oprea has had 1,500 ‘urgent missions’ in 2015 alone. Sources from the police, who wanted to remain anonymous, claim that he uses police escorts for any and all situations – from visiting relatives, to restaurants and hairdresser appointments, racing through the city with 100 kilometres per hour and occasionally driving on the wrong side of the road.
The incident triggered immediate reactions from President Klaus Iohannis and the civil society, asking Gabriel Oprea to step down. Elected officials on the other hand denied the request to question him in the Commission for Investigation of Abuse, but have suggested that the heads of the Romanian Police and the Bucharest Police should be called in to explain the situation.
An official investigation has been launched and the National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA) has revealed the creation of a criminal file to check the legality of using police escorts by institutional leaders. According to sources, the investigation targets Oprea, General Prosecutor Tiberiu Nițu as well as the patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church, Daniel. All of them are suspected of abusing their position in attaining police escorts. In the meantime, following a request by the opposition, Oprea is expected to face the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the bicameral parliament, on the 9 of November to explain the circumstances surrounding the death of the police officer. In the meantime, following a request by the opposition, Oprea was expected to face Parliament on the 9th of November to explain the circumstances surrounding the death of the police officer. Following his recent resignation alongside the entire government, Oprea refused to take part in the hearing stating that his resignation absolves him to do so.
Let the miners come to me – unpunished crimes prosecuted after 25 years
October has been a very eventful month for former President Ion Iliescu, who took over the leadership of Romania following the Revolution of 1989 that overthrew the communist regime of Nicolae Ceauşescu. The 85 year old Ex-President is now facing charges of crimes against humanity for the violent repression of anti-governmental protests in 1990, events that later become known as the Mineriade.
Iliescu is accused of orchestrating miners’ attacks on anti-governmental protesters, most of whom students, who were gathered in the capital’s University Square to voice their anger against the new ex-Communist leadership. Following Iliescu’s call, thousands of miners descended upon the streets of Bucharest beating up protesters and trashing the headquarters of two opposition parties. The number of casualties recorded is ten, but with unofficial records claim the real number is in fact around 100. Although several puzzle pieces are still missing, witnesses and survivors portray a disturbing image of the events: rapes, beatings, stabbings, shootings and secret burials. TV footage shows Iliescu thanking the miners for their civic conscience and patriotism following the clashes, drawing great criticism at home and abroad.
Although initially launched in 2005, the charges were dropped two years later. Iliescu – Romanian President between 1990-1996 and 2000-2004 – dismissed these allegations as absurd. In September 2014 the European Court of Human Rights criticised the failure of Romania to trail those responsible for the crimes against humanity committed in the transitional period to democracy. The case was re-opened earlier in March this year by the Romanian Supreme Court.
At this stage prosecutors appear to have evidence that Ion Iliescu, Petre Roman (Prime Minister between 1989-1991) and other generals took part in a secret meeting in June 1990, in which Iliescu gave the order to disperse protesters from the University Square. These orders where followed through the next day, when forces of the Ministry of Interior and the Romanian Secret Service systematically attacked the population.
As the years passed, many citizens lost faith that the events of June 1990 would ever be followed up in court. 2015 thus brings a new glimmer of hope for those who suffered from the clashes. Following President Klaus Iohannis’s approval to prosecute, people are anxiously awaiting the results of the investigations, hoping to find some comfort 25 years from the events.
Sisyphus’s highway to hell – the never-ending story of infrastructural mismanagement
The infrastructure problems of Romania are well known. For the 9th largest country in the EU covering a surface of approximately 238,390 square kilometres, the total motorway capacity – namely 695.4 kilometres – resembles the beginning of a bad joke. The punchline came earlier this month, when authorities announced that a brand new sector of Romanian highway, inaugurated two days before the second round of the Presidential elections in November 2014, had to be torn down and built again.
According to the inspectors of the Romanian National Company for Highways and Roads (CNADNR), following a quality inspection in September this year, serious deviations from the project’s plan were found. These deviations in turn caused cracks in the motorway, merely ten days following its opening.
The Italian construction company responsible for the works maintain that CNADNR pressured them to ensure the road was finalised before the second round of Presidential elections took place. This deadline, they claim, gave them no choice but to skip a few steps in the building process. The Director General of CNADNR denies these allegations and states the works should have been finalised in 2013, claiming the inauguration date had no connection to current issues. These allegations have prompted the reaction of the opposition, who blame ex-Prime Minister Victor Ponta and his government of costing Romania millions of euros due to incompetence in managing large investments and orders issued for electoral gain. Following the control body’s report, the dossier has been referred to the Anti-Corruption Directorate with suspicions of criminal acts placed on CNADNR.
Pointing fingers aside, several issues seem indisputable. Firstly, the lack of proper infrastructure in Romania is hampering the economy and investments. Secondly, although presenting very high touristic potential thanks to a rich cultural heritage and diverse beautiful landscapes, Romania is shooting itself in the foot with inadequate travel options for tourists. Thirdly, Romanians are becoming increasingly frustrated with the slow pace of progress in this sector.
There is – should we wish to see it – a silver lining: the plan to build around 725 km of new highways and 1,809 km of express roads in the next 15 years. If experience has taught us anything, however, it’s that expectations are very different from the reality on the ground. Even though in recent years, with the help of the EU, the different governments have tried to improve the infrastructure situation, none of the started projects have been completed. Moreover, some of the projects have been postponed or cancelled due to late payments from the government. It remains to be seen to what extent the authorities will be able to overcome their shortcomings in providing the population and businesses with the infrastructure needed to join the lines of Western European networks.