Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Finally on the Map?


Tough to say whether Romania's recent positive economic evaluations have any connection with this. Hopefully at least tourism will benefit from the country's new digital map.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The Report Card

via www.reporter.gr

Romania: Upgraded by S&P on Declining Debt Burden Outlook Stable
17:10 - 06 September 2005 - Standard & Poor's Ratings Services said it raised its long- and short-term foreign currency sovereign credit ratings on the Republic of Romania to 'BBB-' and 'A-3', from 'BB+' and 'B', respectively, on improving government indebtedness indicators. At the same time, the long-term local currency rating on Romania was raised to 'BBB' from 'BBB-', and the 'A-3' short-term local currency rating was affirmed. The outlook is stable.

Romania is the twelfth sovereign currently rated by Standard & Poor's that has made the transition to investment grade from speculative grade. The full analysis on the Republic of Romania will be published later today on RatingsDirect, Standard & Poor's Web-based credit analysis system. The report will also be posted on Standard & Poor's public website, www.standardandpoors.com (select Credit Ratings, then select Sovereigns from the left-hand menu, then find under Credit Reports).
"The upgrade stems from the improvement in general government fiscal indicators that has occurred on the back of buoyant domestic demand," said Standard & Poor's credit analyst Moritz Kraemer. "GDP looks set to grow at almost 6% in 2005, with domestic demand expanding almost twice as rapidly."

As a result, the general government deficit will reach 1.3% of GDP, despite a comprehensive tax cut associated with the introduction of the 16% flat tax in 2005, and additional spending pressures related to the floods affecting part of the country this summer. General government debt will drop to less than 20% of GDP in 2005, well below the 'BBB' median. Sustained fiscal consolidation and parastatal budget control will lead to a stabilizing general government debt ratio. By the end of the current decade, this ratio will inch up to a moderate 22% of GDP, as GDP growth will ease toward a more sustainable 5.0% and EU-accession related spending pressures will make themselves felt.

The ratings on Romania remain constrained by institutional weaknesses, significant external imbalances, low levels of economic prosperity, and a large, albeit declining, loss-making parastatal sector.

"Romania's external imbalances are offset by its EU membership prospects, which would make the growth- and investment-enhancing economic modernization process irreversible," said Mr. Kraemer. "Furthermore, we expect that the government will take the necessary action to reduce the large current account deficit, which could reach 9% of GDP in 2005."

In this context, a prudent approach to public finances and the careful management of capital inflows and the ongoing domestic credit boom will be vital. Failure over the medium-term to effectively mitigate the vulnerabilities caused by the persistent external imbalances could bring the ratings under renewed downward pressure. A delay to EU membership to 2008 is now more likely than entry in 2007, but would not in itself put any downward pressure on the ratings on Romania.

Further improvements of the rating would hinge on policy predictability, sustainable continued real convergence with higher-rated peers, and tangible success in reducing Romania's governance problems.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Gypsy Flashbacks

If you believe Isabela Fonseca's "Bury Me Standing" the Gypsies of Albania and Poland are as idealistic as the troubadours of medieval Al Andaluz, and as underestimated as the civil rights activists of 1950's America. Fonseca's work is titled based on an allegedly Gypsy saying - "Bury me standing for all my life I have been on my knees" ("Ingroapa-ma stand in picioare, am stat in genunchi toata viata.") To be honest, I've never heard of it before, but I'm hardly the guru of Gypsy folklore.

What I take from her book is those mixed feelings I've been dealing with my entire life, both in Romania and the U.S. - the dichotomy between the Gypsy myth, music and stories, and their lawlessness, deceit and misery. The Gypsies or Roma are a tough subject and a sore issue for Romania. For me, it's been the single, most constant topic of conversation I've had with most foreigners (read non-Romanians.) To list but a few painfully-amusing cases:
NYU student: "Are you sure you‘re Romanian? I mean... your hair is so light, you don't look like a gypsy..."
Professor X at NYU Undergraduate Research Conference: "Why doesn't the Romanian government implement some form of Affirmative Action program? It worked in the States…"
French immigration officer: "Oh, you're Romanian, well, we must check your passport twice - you can't just be going to France as a tourist…” (Read: "Most Romanians we come in contact with are beggars; incidentally, 99% of them are gypsies; ergo, all Romanians steal.")

Apart from the blatant sophisms of the French immigration, I have learned one truth about the average international perception of Romania: at least 50% of Romanians must be Gypsies.

While growing up in Romania, even long after the first 8 Communist years, I had little PC awareness. "US" and "THEM" was omnipresent, and I can’t imagine my country without the ethnic differentiation. The way I see it, the Gypsies, the Roma or "Tiganii" are an inherent but not integral part of Romania. One of my first memories of Gypsy exposure is a picture of my parents' wedding - outside the City Hall in our home town, my mom and dad holding hands next to three beautifully-dressed Gypsy women posing and smiling to the camera. I asked my mom more than once why they took that photo; she always gives me the same answer "For good luck." This is the same mother who would often warn me against the omnipresent Gypsy thieves.

It wasn’t hard to dislike them. Their poverty was everywhere - holding their children and begging for money by the church entrance; holding signs and begging for money in every train on the way to our summer vacation; on the beach, selling candy and Coca Cola to tourists or begging for money; in the market, selling chrysanthemums or begging for money.
It wasn’t hard to fear their shrewdness: stealing my ring after a palm reading; hiding the rotten cherries underneath the ripe ones in the market; stealing my grandparents' horse; breaking into our garden and stealing the construction bricks. Stealing. Stealing. Stealing.

And yet I still remember their beauty: one summer while traveling with my parents to the opposite side of the country, close to the Hungarian border, I saw what my mom called "beautiful Gypsy women" - your idealistic, pastoral, red-skirt, big eyes, long hair, large smile. They were selling lace in the town market. "They are so clean!" my mom noted.

And then there is their opulence, a strikingly ironic complement to the overwhelming poverty: especially after the 1989 Revolution, I remember noticing entire villages, sprung overnight - large houses, with shiny, tin roofs (a "clear" sign of Gypsy architecture, whatever that means); in my mind, gold chains, car theft, deportations, commerce with children and prostitution were as commonly associated with the Roma, as poor education, street begging and traditional wedding music.

Over the past few years I've had many discussions with several members of the Romanian Diaspora in America about the Roma's lack of education. The most common commentary I get is "But they don't want to be educated; they don't go to school." In a country where education is free and mandatory, you'd think that any Gypsy family would send their kids to school. Yet as anywhere in the world, kids can be extremely cruel. Officially, integration in school is avidly mandated by the government. In reality, there is no doubt in my mind that the few Gypsy kids in any public school are and would be regarded as "them" by both students and teachers.

However, I’m fairly reluctant to even applying the above social explanation. Is the lack of education really based on discrimination, or is it just the parents' decision to utilize their kids to steal, beg, work and purchase alcohol, as opposed to sending them to school?

Not all Gypsies sell their children or abandon them in orphanages; and not all Gypsies sing, dance and wear large beautiful red skirts. Some steal when they don't have to, some sing because they are great at it. Do the Romanians discriminate, or do the Roma choose to deny any help? I honestly don't know. However, I do know that I wish the world stopped generalizing about Romania and that Romanians stopped generalizing about Gypsies.