Romania | Page 23 | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2003

2003 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Throughout the latter half of the Cold War, Romania was ruled by Nicolae Ceaucescu, one of Eastern Europe's most repressive dictators. In the early winter of 1989, however, popular dissatisfaction with the Ceaucescu regime led to his overthrow and execution 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 into neo-Communist and reformist factions. In November 1996, Emil Constantinescu of the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR) defeated Iliescu in the presidential elections. The CDR was prone to considerable instability and lack of unity, however, as was evident in the dismissals of Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea in 1998 and Prime Minister Radu Vasile in 1999.

In the November 2000 parliamentary elections, the Party of Social Democracy (PDSR) won 65 of the 140 seats in the Senate (the upper house of parliament) and 155 of the 327 seats in the Chamber of Deputies (the lower house). A surprising development in these elections, however, was the extent of support for the nationalist Greater Romania Party (PRM) led by Vadim Tudor, which gained 37 seats in the upper house and 84 in the lower house. The remaining seats in parliament were gained by the National Liberal Party (PNL), 13 in the upper and 30 in the lower house); the Democratic Party (PD), 13 and 31, respectively; and the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR), 12 and 27, respectively. Since 2000, Adrian Nastase of the PDSR has served as prime minister.

Public confidence in both governmental institutions and in politicians appeared to suffer considerably in 2002, no doubt influenced by a series of corruption scandals involving leading politicians. Public opinion polls conducted between November 2001 and July 2002 showed that distrust of the government increased 2.5 percent monthly during this period. Pressure from the EU to tackle the problems of official corruption led to the creation of a new anticorruption unit in the Romanian government in 2002.

Throughout 2002, Romania tried to steer a difficult course between satisfying its requirements for eventual EU membership while at the same time maintaining good relations with the United States. In August, Romanian officials angered many Europeans by agreeing to U.S. demands not to turn over American soldiers that could potentially be indicted by the newly formed International Criminal Court (ICC). In November, Romania achieved one of its primary foreign policy goals when it was invited to join NATO.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Romanians can change their government democratically. Elections since 1991 have been considered "generally free and fair" by international observers. According to international monitoring groups, the legal framework for elections and laws related to the formation of political parties and the conduct of presidential and parliamentary elections, as well as governmental ordinances, provide an adequate basis for democratic elections. In the second round of Romania's presidential elections in 2000, voter turnout was 57.5 percent.

The judiciary is a separate branch of government, although executive institutions are believed to be exercise undue control over the judicial system. Police on several occasions during the course of the year beat individuals while under arrest, and police treatment of Roma (Gypsies) has been considered exceptionally harsh. Investigations into police brutality have generally been inconclusive.

The 1991 constitution enshrines freedom of expression and the press, and the media are characterized by considerable pluralism and a general absence of direct state interference. There are, however, limits to free expression resulting from provisions prohibiting "defamation of the country and the nation." 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 or national security.

Religious freedom is generally respected, although "nontraditional" religious organizations (for instance, Jehova's Witnesses) in Romania sometimes encounter difficulties in registering with the state secretary of religions. Lack of registration denies adherents their right to freely exercise their religious beliefs and prevents them from building places of worship, cemeteries, and so on. In June 2002, the parliament passed a law restituting church property held by the state since the Communist period.

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly, and the government respects this right. Workers have the right to form unions and strike. There are no restrictions on travel within the country, and there are no legal barriers for citizens who want to change their place of residence.

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. The 1991 constitution provides for additional seats to be allotted to national minorities if they are unable to pass the 5 percent threshold needed to enter parliament. In the 2000 elections, 18 seats were awarded to national minorities on this basis.

Corruption remains a serious problem in Romania. Property rights are secure, though the ability of citizens to start businesses continues to be encumbered by red tape, corruption, and organized crime.

Women have equal rights with men, although gender discrimination is considered widespread. Women are considerably underrepresented in government, as is evident from the fact that only 10.4 percent of the deputies and 5.7 percent of the senators in the current parliament are women. As has become typical of the region as a whole, trafficking in women has become a major problem. Romania is considered both a country of origin for trafficked women and girls and a transit country, as well as a minor destination country. Parliament passed a law in November 2001 outlawing trafficking in human beings, and the country is involved in an extensive education effort to warn people about the dangers of trafficking.