Reuters – December 25, 2006

Romania communists nostalgic week before EU entry

Romania’s diehard communists lit candles on the grave of former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu on the 17th anniversary of his death yesterday, looking with trepidation to the country’s European Union accession in a week. Followers of the Stalinist ruler, who was executed in a bloody revolt in 1989, talked with nostalgia of the days when they could depend on state giveaways under communism.

“I’ve come to his grave every year since he was killed, he gave me a house and a job,” said Elena Pesclevei, 55. “Ceausescu did bad things, but he also helped us.”

“I don’t think joining the EU will have any results, we will live the same way we do now, which is bad,” said the pensioner, who spends a third of her monthly income of $100 on medicine.

The crowd of Ceausescu sympathisers, who brave the biting cold every

December 25 to visit his grave, has thinned out over the years as Romania’s democratic reforms have gathered pace and won the country an invitation to join the EU.

There is wide support among Romanians for EU membership but continued

poverty, worries about competition within the rich bloc and nostalgia for the old Ceausescu days are giving a boost to nationalist and populist politicians across the country. Two of them, Gigi Becali who runs the small New Generation Party and Corneliu Vadim Tudor, leader of the Greater Romania Party, came in as the second and third most popular politicians in a survey conducted by TV station Realitatea this month.

“Romania looks like it is having a very successful transition, but

transition doesn’t tackle all the ills,” said Alina Mungiu-Pippidi of the Romanian Academic Society.

“Bodyguards get paid better than doctors, teachers make more money if they wait tables in Italy. There is a general feeling of gloom even though people are doing well.”

Western diplomats worry about the fast rise of Becali, who scored less than 2 per cent in the 2004 presidential elections, but saw his party’s ratings rise to nearly 8 per cent this year.

Together with Vadim Tudor’s party, the fringe nationalists draw some 20 percent support, according to latest polls.

Becali, a wealthy businessman who owns a popular Bucharest football club, built up his support by exploiting the distrust among Romanians of state institutions which lingers after decades under one of the Soviet bloc’s most oppressive regimes. (Reuters)

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