Romania | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2002

2002 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


In 2001, Romania continued to lag behind the 12 other countries negotiating for membership in the European Union (EU). An EU report in November noted that corruption within the judiciary "remains a serious problem." Two-thirds of the economy is still government controlled, even after the privatization of Banca Agricola and Sidex, the largest steel manufacturer in Eastern Europe, this year. The report highlighted Romania's progress towards establishing a functioning market economy and stated that Romania would not be able to "withstand market forces and competition within the EU but has taken steps to allow it to develop that ability." Despite these problems, the European Council of Justice and Interior Ministers lifted visa restrictions in December for Romanian citizens traveling to EU-member countries, effective January 1, 2002. Several opinion polls conducted at the end of the year showed that up to 80 percent of Romanians would vote in favor of EU integration if a referendum were held.

Following the September 11 attacks on the United States, Romania announced that it was prepared take part in the fight against terrorism despite not being a member of NATO. The Romanian parliament adopted a condemnatory motion on the attacks: "The terrorist violence represents an attack not only on U.S. institutions and citizens, but also on democracy, freedom, and international stability." It also voted overwhelmingly to allow NATO to use its airspace, land, and waters to combat terrorism. In October, Romania signed an agreement with the United States that permitted temporary stationing of U.S. troops on Romanian territory.

In late December, Hungary and Romania reached a compromise regarding the application of the Hungarian Status Law, which had been the focus of much controversy in 2001. Hungary had passed the Hungarian Status Law in June, granting special rights to ethnic Hungarians residing in neighboring countries, including employment and health benefits. A poll conducted in July showed that 76 percent of Romanians felt the government should reject the implementation of the Hungarian Status Law. The compromise reached between the two countries extended to Romanians the right to work in Hungary, but did not include the other special rights that were granted to the ethnic Hungarians.

Romania became independent following the 1878 Berlin Congress. It gained territory after World War I, but lost some to the Soviet Union and Bulgaria in 1940. When Soviet troops entered the country in 1944, King Michael dismissed the pro-German regime and backed the Allies. In 1945, he was forced to accept a Communist-led coalition government. The autarkic economics and repressive governance of Communist strongman Nicolae Ceausescu devastated Romania during his rule from 1965 to 1989.

On December 25, 1989, Ceausescu was tried and executed following a popular uprising and palace coup by disgruntled Communists. A provisional government was formed under Ion Iliescu, a high-ranking Communist and the leader of the National Salvation Front (NSF). The 1992 parliamentary elections saw the NSF split between neo-Communist and more reformist members. In November 1996, the reformer Emil Constantinescu of the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR) defeated Iliescu in the presidential elections. Political bickering and lack of unification within the coalition resulted in the dismissal of Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea in 1998 and Prime Minister Radu Vasile in 1999.

Romania took over the rotating presidency of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in January. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell commended Romania for its OSCE chairmanship in December, declaring, "Romania clearly is making maximum efforts to become part of the Euro-Atlantic community."

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Romanians can change their government democratically under a multiparty system enshrined in a 1991 post-Communist constitution. In the November 2000 parliamentary elections, the Party of Social Democracy (PDSR) won 65 of the 140 seats in the senate and 155 of the 327 seats in the chamber of deputies. The Greater Romania Party (PRM) gained 37 seats in the senate and 84 in the lower house; the National Liberal Party (PNL), 13 and 30; the Democratic Party (PD), 13 and 31; and the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR), 12 and 27. Adrian Nastase was appointed prime minister. The OSCE found that the 2000 presidential and parliamentary elections were "further evidence that democratic elections are firmly entrenched in Romania." Voter turnout in 2000 was at 57.5 percent, 20 percent lower than in the 1996 elections.

The 1991 constitution enshrines freedom of expression and the press, but it limits the boundaries of free expression by prohibiting "defamation of the country." Under Law No. 40 of the 1996 Romanian penal code, journalists face imprisonment for up to two years for libel and up to five years for disseminating false information that affects Romania's international relations and national security. Legislation on the protection of state secrets, approved by parliament in March, provides that anyone who is found guilty of publishing state secrets could receive a prison sentence of up to ten years, and up to seven years for those trying to acquire state secrets. Critics argued that the law infringes upon the rights of freedom of information and expression.

Religious freedom is generally respected although newer religious organizations continue to be impeded from registering with the state secretary of religions. Lack of registration in turn denies adherents their right to freely exercise their religious beliefs and prevents them from building places of worship, cemeteries, and so on.

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly, and the government respects this right. Workers have the right to form unions and strike.

The Romanian justice system is divided into four courts: the courts of first instance, the tribunals, the courts of appeals, and the supreme court of justice. All are independent of other government branches but subject to influence by the executive branch. Under the law, judges are appointed, promoted, and transferred by the 15-member Higher Council of the Judiciary, which is elected for four-year terms by the two chambers of parliament. To diminish the politicization of the process, a 1997 revision of the law called for the members of the Higher Council to be appointed by the justice minister, not by parliament.

The adoption of the Local Public Administration Act in January 2001 granted minorities the right to use their native tongue in communicating with authorities in areas where they represent at least 20 percent of the population. The act also required signs to be written in minority languages and local government decisions to be announced in those languages.

In July the Romanian government adopted nullified a law that allowed jail terms of up to five years for homosexual relations in public or that provoked a public scandal. Following the chamber of deputies' vote in June 2000 to decriminalize homosexuality, the senate finally voted this year to approve the ordinance that abolished Article 200 of the penal code. The senate also approved a law in November that banned sexual harassment and any form of gender discrimination.

Corruption is endemic in the government bureaucracy, civil service, and business. Property rights are secure, though the ability of citizens to start businesses continues to be encumbered by red tape, corruption, and organized crime. In May the Romanian Association for Transparency released a survey which found that, according to Bucharest residents, the police, the health service, and local public administration were the most corrupt.

There are no restrictions on travel within the country, and citizens who want to change their place of residence do not face any official barriers. Women have equal rights with men, though violence against women, including rape, continues to be a serious problem. Romania failed to take significant steps to combat international trafficking in women, according to the U.S. State Department's annual report on trafficking.

The government suspended international adoptions in June following a draft report by the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee rapporteur, Emma Nicholson, which detailed the "persistent abandonment of children, child abuse and neglect, international adoption and child trafficking." However, the ban imposed in October was partially lifted in December for adoption requests that had been submitted before the current ban.