Odds and ends of Romanian news from the last week. You remember all those floods from last month? Well, Romania got hit with more of them. Another 25 or so people killed, and a couple of thousand homeless, and maybe another couple of hundred million in damages. (American readers: to scale up, multiply everything by 15. So, in a US context, it's maybe 400 people dead and ~$3 billion of damage. In American terms, it's like Romania just got hit with two major killer Florida hurricanes in two months.)
A Romanian woman killed the popular 90-year-old priest Brother Roger, founder of the Taize movement, by stabbing him while he was celebrating Mass. The word at the moment is that the woman was mentally ill. Is anyone else reminded of the 2003 assassination of the Swedish Foreign Minister by a mentally ill Serbian man? Let's hope this isn't a trend. The government got reshuffled, with four Ministries -- including the very important Ministries of Finance and European Integration -- getting new Ministers. The politics of this are not completely clear to me, but it looks like Prime Minister Tariceanu is either trying to make peace with President Basescu (one of the appointees is a close friend of the President), or trying to inoculate his government against Basescu's ongoing attempts to force early elections. Or maybe both. Readers may recall that Tariceanu resigned a few weeks ago, setting the stage for new elections... then changed his mind and de-resigned. President Basescu was very unhappy about that. This all takes place against a background of Romania desperately trying to get confirmed for entry into the EU on January 1, 2007... the EU can (and may yet) delay that entry, if Romania doesn't seem to be reforming fast enough. It's not clear if these political games will hurt Romania, but it doesn't look like they will help. The Romanian government forgave 80% of the debts owed to Romania by Iraq... $2 billion out of $2.5 billion. Presumably this is part of Romania's effort to play nice with both the US and the EU; many EU members did the same thing last year, as part of the Club of Paris deal. It's not clear to me how big a sacrifice this was, because I'm not sure how valuable that Iraqi debt really was. Worth 90 cents on the dollar? 50? 5? Still, even if heavily discounted, it's not chump change; 5% of $2 billion is still $100 million, which is a lot of money in Romania. Low cost airlines multiplied like weeds all over Western Europe in the late 1990s. In the last couple of years, they've been spreading to the East as well. Now they're coming to Bucharest. Blue Air, a "Romanian low cost airline", will launch twice weekly 737 service from Bucharest Baneasa to Madrid on October 30. The market will presumably be the huge population of Romanian guest workers in Spain, but perhaps some Spanish tourists will trickle back to Bucharest as well. Car sales in Romania in the first six months of 2005 were up -- take a deep breath now -- 60% over the same period in 2004. This suggests serious real growth in the Romanian economy, since cars are quite a bit more expensive relative to average income here than in the West. On the other hand, it's less good news for Romania's balance of payment (there's a domestic industry, but most cars are imported), and not good news at all for those of us who have to brave Bucharest traffic every day. Road construction and maintenance is, alas, not up 60%. Or even 6%.