November 28 2000
Romania's Jews unfazed by far-right victory
By Elli Wohlgelernter
(November 28) - The Jewish community of Romania is not worried about the strong showing by far-right leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor, who is known for having voiced antisemitic remarks, according to the community's president.
"There isn't a problem with antisemitism in Romania," community leader Prof. Nicolai Cajal said yesterday by phone from Bucharest. "Tudor usually is not antisemitic, he's more anti-Hungarian, and anti-gypsy. He makes many noises in that direction, but he is not a danger - he's stupid, but not dangerous."
Tudor won an unexpectedly high 29 percent of the vote in Sunday's election, according to the Central Electoral Bureau, and he will face a runoff for president against former president Ion Iliescu, a onetime communist, who received 36.5 percent of the vote.
The showing by Tudor was dramatic, following his party's garnering only 2.2 percent of the vote nationally in local elections in June.
"I was sure he would obtain a lot of votes, but not that many," Cajal said. "It surprised us that he got so many." Cajal said the depressed economic situation contributed to Tudor's strong showing.
"I think people are very unhappy, and they felt that it was necessary to make a change," he said. "But it is not a good change, in my opinion, and they shouldn't have confidence in this change." Cajal said he has faith that in the new parliament, "with normal and intelligent people," they will find a solution to take the country in a new direction.
Cajal envisions no changes in the 14,000-strong Jewish community, and that immigration will continue uninterrupted, as will the county's diplomatic relations with Israel. "There may be a slight increase in aliya, but not as a result of the vote. It will be because the economic situation is so difficult."
Tova Bin-Nun, the Jewish Agency's emissary in Bucharest, said approximately 250 Jews emigrate from Romania each year.
The Central Electoral Bureau figures showed that Iliescu's Party of Social Democracy (PDSR) of ex-communists received 37 percent of the vote for the lower chamber of parliament, while Tudor's Greater Romania Party (PRM) netted 20 percent.
For the upper chamber, the Senate, PDSR had 38 percent against 21 for PRM.
Centrists, who had ruled in chaotic fashion for the past four years, suffered a complete rout. Liberal Theodor Stolojan was a distant third on 12 percent, 3 percentage points ahead of Prime Minister Mugur Isarescu.
The size of the vote for Tudor, who has been likened to Austrian far-right leader Joerg Haider and France's Jean Marie Le Pen, was expected to send out shock waves.
"Romania cannot continue without support from abroad, but after the elections there will be a great reluctance towards Romania and a great danger to see the country sidelined," said political analyst Octavian Paler.
Iliescu was quick to reject an alliance with Tudor. "I hope that the voters will give the right signal both for Romania and the world in the second round," Iliescu said.
The showing for Tudor made ripples in Brussels, where the European Union has been trying to negotiate terms with 12 accession countries, of which Romania comes in dead last in most categories of economic and social performance.
Former president Iliescu's administration earned a reputation in the west during his first six years in office from 1990 to 1996 for cronyism and putting the brakes on needed reforms of the economy.
"The results of the first round don't exactly enhance Romania's accession chances," an EU official told Reuters.
News agencies contributed to this report.
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