The political scene settled down a little in October. Plenty of commentators were still discussing the summer’s event, but for the time being there was nothing out of the ordinary. Romania’s political odd couple Traian Basescu and Victor Ponta continued at odds and there were a few more corruption cases involving politicians. One of the main stories was the installation of private sector management at the national airline Tarom. This was among Romania’s commitments to the International Monetary Fund and Tarom was the first state run company to get new management under the scheme. It wasn’t a completely hitch free process, but they got there in the end, and only a few days after the deadline.
It took more than 20 years, but the new Romanian National Library was finished in 2012. To be fair, work had started towards the end of Communist era dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s regime and been halted after the revolution. The new library hosted an art exhibition that featured protest art from the communist period, much of which had never been seen and was openly subversive or in styles frowned upon by the old regime.
Sanitation and garbage disposal might not be the most glamorous of subjects, but they are important and if it’s not done properly in big cities, the result is pretty unpleasant. Bucharest City Hall announced in October that it was planning to organize an international tender for the garbage collection contracts. According to City Hall, the annual cost was EUR 132 million, which was too expensive and the result of contracts awarded to personal connections and for bribes.
Romania’s richest man Dinu Patriciu probably won’t remember 2012 as one his favorite years. The only Romanian on the Forbes list of billionaires had a chain of convenience stores he owned go bust and litigation and divorce proceedings with his wife. In October, the Romanian media reported that he had started pawning pieces from his art collection, which is widely considered to contain some of the most important works by Romanian masters. His aims were unclear, he was pawning the art to companies he part owned and to an individual with whom he had business partnerships. The media speculated that he could have been raising capital or possibly putting his art collection beyond the reach of the Romanian courts.
The inflation rate had been reasonably steady through most of the year and within the Central Bank’s (BNR) target range, but the September figures published in October showed that the annual rate had spiked to 5.33 percent. The culprits were food prices, with potatoes going up by a whopping 27 percent.
The charms of Romanian women attract between EUR 25 and 30 million a year to the capital Bucharest alone, according to the Romanian Tourism Employers Federation. Around 100,000 visitors to the capital each year come specially to meet up with Romanian lady friends, whom they have typically met online or while working abroad. The average amorous Johnny Foreigner coming to Bucharest stays for 1.6 nights and spends EUR 150 to 175 a day, according to the Tourism Federation.
Romania’s Danube Delta is a haven for wildlife that attracts many visitors a year to see the unique natural environment. Most are happy to just look, but in October, Romanian police caught a group of Italians with rather less peaceful intentions. An astonishing 1,000 dead birds, 7,000 rounds of ammunition and 20 guns were found in the Italian hunting group’s possession. They didn’t have the necessary hunting permits, but were held initially for the amount of ammunition they had, which was in excess of the legal limit for possession.
As well as demanding more privatizations at an increasing pace, the International Monetary Fund has also asked Romania to install private sector management at state run companies. In October, national airline Tarom’s new management team was announced. It included a former astronaut, a banker, a politician and was headed by Austrian Heinrich Vystoupil, the former head of Austrian Airlines in Romania and Moldova. However, when it came to signing the contract, Mr Vystoupil was not happy with the terms and conditions. He gave up the position on October 30 and was replaced by two new foreign managers in early November – Christian Edouard Heinzmann and Brit Michael Moriaty.
After plenty of cases in the courts involving corruption at the very highest levels, an investigation into Romania’s railway company CFR showed that there was plenty grass roots corruption around. Around 70 employees were investigated for taking bribes to allow passengers to travel without tickets. The figures given show the extent to which corruption is a normal day to day activity in Romania. Some 10 million people, or equivalent to half the country’s entire population, regularly dodge the train fare and the annual loss to CFR was estimated at EUR 8.8 million.
All’s fair in love, war and apparently competitive fishing too. Romania won the world fishing championships on home turf, or perhaps home surf-n-turf would be a better expression, but the event wasn’t without controversy. The wily Romanians had apparently been giving the fish at the competition site a taste for their special bait mix ahead of the competition. The UK team complained, but it was all perfectly legal according to competition rules. Other teams had their own secret bait mixtures, but it appeared that Romanian fish preferred local cuisine.
Since the Hollywood blockbuster Cold Mountain, starring Nicole Kidman, was filmed in Romania, there has been a steady stream of film shoots in the country. In October Variety reported on Romania’s growing popularity as a location for filming, with low costs, thickly forested mountains, medieval cities and the Danube Delta given as big attractions for film makers.