Last week, Romania became a candidate to join NATO, bringing attention to the country's democratic reform efforts, which are a key part of the process. The 12 years since the fall of communism has been a turbulent time for Romania according to political leaders and analysts, who say the country still has a long way to go.
Many on the Romanian political scene say effective democracy is only starting to develop. A new political culture must be established, not only among the nation's leaders, but among its people, according to political science professor and analyst Stelian Tanase.
"The political culture of Romania is not very democratic because of 50 years of communism. It is quite complicated to understand, to learn about democracy in a few months, in few weeks, in a few years. You need a tradition, experience. I think Romania is not a consolidated democracy now. It's a mixture between weak institutions, weak mobilization of the population, with not democratically convinced politicians. I think all the Romanian politicians are authoritarian. They like very much to give orders. To do nothing or, to do less, and to give us a lot of speech. Nothing else," Mr. Tanase said.
A senior opposition figure, the reformist mayor of Bucharest Traian Basescu, holds a similar view. He said democratic development has so far fallen short. "We have to be very honest. We don't have yet a market economy, we have a lot of abuses of the party in power against local administration. We have heavy corruption at the governmental level and at the political class level. And we have corruption of public institutions. Let's be honest, we are not angels. But maybe the invitation which we received to become a NATO member will be the instrument accelerating the democratization process of our daily life," he said.
It was not only 50 years of Communism that damaged Romania, according to politicians here. The turbulent 12 years since Communism ended dragged down early hopes for reform. Prime Minister Adrian Nastase describes the period as a kind of black box with a lot of frustrations and expectations in it. He said the political scene was chaotic in the beginning, but more recently things have become more organized.
"In '89 we went from a one-party system to a political system with 200 political parties, which was of course the enthusiasm immediately after the revolution in Romania. Now we have a political landscape which is very similar with the European one. We have political parties corresponding to the European family of parties. Social democrats, liberals, Christian democrats and I think that this is one of the important changes. The political parties are no more groups of people around charismatic leaders. They are built around ideological programs. And this is in my opinion one of the important achievements," he said.
Whatever the politicians may say, some members of the public take a mixed view. They acknowledge that change takes time, but also wonder when it will produce concrete results.
"After 50 years in Communism, reform is very, very slow. Because it's about three or four generations," a man in a Bucharest bookstore said. "You can't change in 10 years or in five years, you can't change the mind, the political, reform the economy, agriculture, industry. You can't change. But, very, very slow they start. And I think it's very good for our people and our nation."
Analysts are closely watching the rise of the ultra-nationalist Corneliu Vadim Tudor, who heads the second-largest party in parliament.
Mr. Vadim Tudor received one-third of the votes in the year 2000 presidential runoff election, at a time when centrist parties were in disarray. Political observers say his strong showing was an expression of the frustration people feel with economic hardship, corruption and other problems that have come with the transition from Communism. The next test of that frustration, and of the strength of Romania's political parties, will come in the next elections in 2004.