Director's Forum with His Excellency Ion Iliescu, President of Romania
Romanians have long identified with Western Europe. Despite a half century of Soviet occupation and the deprivation and isolation imposed by the Ceaucescu regime in the 1980s, Western values and ideals still seeped in. In the 1960s, Romania was the first Soviet bloc country to establish economic and cultural ties with Western countries. Today, Iliescu said, 75 percent of Romania's trade occurs with European Union countries and the United States.
Since the fall of communism in 1989, Romania has embarked on an aggressive program to promote the country's return to Europe. "Our Western identity remained alive and finally helped us return to Europe," Iliescu said. "The entire democratic evolution of the West inspired and energized Romanian society."
Since 1989, Romania has pursued a democratic path, highlighted by democratic elections and a growing civil society. In 1991, Romania adopted a new constitution based on a pluralist system, separation of powers, and establishing basic freedoms, including freedom of speech and association and protection of minority rights. As Iliescu pointed out, the Hungarian minority is represented in both chambers of parliament, and 17 other minorities are represented in the Chamber of Deputies.
Romania's quest for NATO and EU accession have propelled numerous domestic reforms. Topping the domestic agenda is curbing corruption and reforming the Armed Forces. The government also has adopted programs to overcome its debilitating past, including property restitution, Holocaust education, and strong condemnation of anti-Semitism. Iliescu said, "We are aware that military reform must be complemented by sustained growth of our economy, by effectively combating corruption, strengthening the rule of law, protecting fundamental freedoms and discouraging extremism in our society."
Romania was the first East European country to sign onto NATO's Partnership for Peace back in 1994. Since then, the country has participated in numerous international peacekeeping missions and, most recently, U.S.-led mission in Afghanistan in the war on terrorism.
Iliescu recounted that, back in 1968, Romania declined the invitation to accompany other Warsaw Pact nations to crush the Prague Spring. But today, should NATO extend a membership offer to Romania, Iliescu said it is an invitation that Romania would gladly accept. "I want this presidency to leave behind a legacy of democratic leadership," Iliescu said, "real improvement in the well-being of the Romanian people, the consolidation of democracy and ensuring Romania's irreversible attachment to the West."