Starting last weekend, Senate speaker Nicolae Vacaroiu is officially the most powerful man in Romania as he took over the duties of suspended President Traian Basescu for an interim period of about a month. Doru Ioan Taracila, the new head in the Senate, House speaker Bogdan Olteanu and prime minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu are next in line, according to Romanian law.
But the four are not acting by themselves. The history of the past several years and the way things went in 2007 show that other characters are well established in the shadow of these forefront characters.
Ex-President Ion Iliescu, Social Democratic (PSD, opposition) strategist Viorel Hrebenciuc, Conservative Party (PC) leader Dan Voiculescu and oil mogul Dinu Patriciu may be counted among those who run the country from the backstage.
Without explicit political ambitions but with a huge capacity to influence matters, two other business moguls - Sorin Ovidiu Vantu and Ion Tiriac - are watching political events very carefully.
The current interim President of Romania was among the first post-communist prime ministers of the country. He managed to serve as PM for four years in 1992-1996.
Under the communist regime, he worked for the State Planning Committee, an institution he managed starting 1987.
Shortly after the 1989 revolution, he became a top aide within the National Economy Ministry. In 1991, he was a state secretary within the Finance Ministry. He was investigated in the “Jimbolia” case related to Romania’s breaching the oil embargo applied by the UN on Yugoslavia at the time. The case would be closed later as Vacaroiu was protected by parliamentary immunity.
Later in the nineties, he ran the Investment and Development Bank (BID) which went bankrupt in a major case involving Romanian business mogul Sorin Ovidiu Vantu. He also served as deputy president of the Romanian Commercial Bank in 1996-1997.
He’s been serving as a Senator since 1996. He’s been serving as Senate speaker since 2000.
Doru Ioan Taracila
New Senate speaker Tararicla is one of the most loyal and oldest cronies of Ion Iliescu, Romania’s first and longest serving President. Tariceanu’s family has a wealth evaluated by Romanian business magazine Capital at about 16-18 million USD. His influence in the southern Romanian county of Calarasi which he represents in the Senate is well known.
He is the head of the Calarasi Bar, owns some 30,000 hectares of agricultural land there and, according to his statement of interests, owns shares and stakes in six companies which according to media reports have benefited of lucrative contracts with the state. The companies have a combined turnover of over 50 million USD.
He withdrew from limelight following the 2004 elections due to the weak results reported at local level by his PSD party in the general elections that year.
He’s been serving as a Senator since 1990. He served as Interior minister in the Vacaroiu government in 1994-1996.
The young speaker of the House of Deputies enrolled in the National Liberal Party in 1991. His father was a general manager of the Bucharest-based Technofina SA company. His grandmother, Ghizela Vass, was a notorious activist of the communist regime who had enrolled in the Romanian communist movement in 1933 and served in the party leadership until she retired in 1982..
Olteanu grew up in a house on a street with high resonance in the story of Romanian retrocession process - the Zambaccian Street in Bucharest, where many top officials have been leaving in luxurious homes. His family had to leave the house in 2004 as its former owners regained it.
Olteanu’s godfather is Liberal prime minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu, under the wing of whom he got his first job in the government as his aide when Tariceanu served as Industry minister in 1997.
Olteanu served as head of the Liberal (PNL) youth organization in 1998-2000 and was elected deputy for Bucharest in 2004. He was then named minister for the relation with the Parliament, and in 2006 - House speaker in the place previously held by ex-PSD prime minister Adrian Nastase.
Calin Popescu Tariceanu
The prime minister started his career after 1989 by establishing the first private radio station in Romania, Radio Contact. He was one of the first members of the PNL, but left the party in summer 1990 along with other top members, including businessman Dinu Patriciu, to form the National Liberal Party - the Young Wing.
His mother was married to Dan Amedeo Lazarescu, a Liberal of old, who admitted he had collaborated with the Securitate, communist era’s dreaded political police.
Tariceanu returned to PNL in 1993 and served as Industry minister in the first non-PSD government in 1996-1997. He now serves his fourth term as deputy and was named prime-minister following his taking over the helm of the PNL when the president of the party at the time of the 2004 elections, Theodor Stolojan, withdrew from politics temporarily.
In the summer of 2005, he announced his resignation, but changed his mind and thus started an open political conflict with (now suspended) President Traian Basescu. He removed Basescu’s Democratic Party from the government coalition in March 2007. He was a militant within the PNL for supporting the suspension of the President by the Parliament.
He is married to his third wife and has an estimated wealth of 18-20 million USD, according to the Capital magazine. He controls a car dealing company that was the only Citroen importer in Romania until April this year.
The first post-communist President of Romania, Iliescu had the deepest mark on the history of the country in the last 17 years. A former communist apparatchik, a communist party secretary, a Youth minister and former head of the Young Communists Movement, he made his first steps in Romanian politics under the influence of Ana Pauker, who ran the country in the Soviet-dominated ‘50s.
He was removed from the PCR leadership in 1984 and became a dominant figure as a reformist communist by December 1989, when he took the reins of the country in the 1989 revolution. While in the first days after the revolution he tried to maintain the communist regime with slight changes such as reforming the agricultural and trade sectors, he managed to stay for a longer period of transformation.
He is generally seen as the moral mastermind of the 1990-1991 miners’ crusades to Bucharest (violent marchers by the miners to influence politics in the capital of Romania). But criminal inquiries over his involvement in the events were only started many years later, in 2005.
In his last days as president in 2004, he even pardoned miners’ leader Miron Cozma, sentenced for his role in the miners’ crusades.
He served three terms in the period of 1990-1996 and than in 2000-2004 and is seen as the “father” of the PSD party. While not allowed to return to the party leadership after losing the 2004 elections and despite his repeated conflicts with the new party leaders, he managed to return to grace in December 2006 as current party president named him honorary president of the PSD.
He is the most popular Social Democrat and is generally supported by elderly people with low standards of living and an education below average.
Known as PSD’s main strategist and negotiator, Viorel Hrebenciuc has been serving in the Romanian Parliament since 1992. His name has linked to a series of controversial businessmen later investigated for graft, organized crime and - as in the case of fugitive Syrian-Romanian businessman Omar Hayssam - even terrorism.
A scandal that forced an editorial team split at the Adevarul newspaper in early 2005 (Romania’s most influential newspaper at the time) brought him the nickname of “pinkish bug” as he was accused of controlling the editorial policies of the newspaper from the shadows.
He leads the Moldovan branch of the PSD party and has been engaged in an open conflict with the emerging Transylvanian branch for several years. He refused to run for party management jobs and only accepted the seat as head of the PSD group in the Romanian Parliament.
He is seen as the mastermind of deals with the governing Liberals that led to the removal of the Democrats from Tariceanu’s governing coalition and the establishment of a government formed only of PNL and the Hungarian Democrats (UDMR).
The most controversial politician for the time being, Dan Voiculescu has been a party leader since 1991 but only came to prominence after his party entered Parliament with the help of the PSD in 2000.
His main accomplishment is the establishment of the Intact media group in 1990. From a television station that only broadcast for Bucharest, the Antena 1 TV, the spearhead of the group, has become one of the most important TV stations in the country.
A series of other media - general newspaper Jurnalul National, sports newspaper Gazeta Sporturilor, TV stations Antena 3, Euforia Lifestyle, Antena 2 and many other products formed or developed around Antena 1.
His media business is Voiculescu’s main advantage as he used his media outlets to both help his political partners and improve the visibility of his own party.
Prior to the 1989 revolution, he was involved in the foreign trade of communist Romania and was suspected of having collaborated closely with the communist regime. He is also believed to know about the fate of the Ceausescu family’s accounts abroad. In 2006, he was declared to have collaborated with the Securitate, but he challenged the decision in court.
He entered Parliament in 2004 by linking his party lists to those of the PSD but then joined Liberals and Democrats in forming a new governing coalition which he left in 2006. In 2007, he was named head of the inquiry commission that investigated so-called breaches of the Romanian Constitution by President Traian Basescu.
He’s been a political partner of PM Calin Popescu Tariceanu since early 1990 and served as a Liberal deputy in 1990-2003. He abandoned his seat in the Parliament to focus on his business activities.
He is president of the Rompetrol Group which wikipedia.org includes among the first 25 oil groups in the European Union. But the way Rompetrol turned from a state-controlled company to a publicly traded one still raises many question marks.
He’s been under investigation in several cases of fraud since 2005. He admidded that companies in his subordination sponsored the PSD in the 2004 electoral campaign. He’s been a main supporter of an alliance between the PNL under Calin Popescu Tariceanu and the PSD since the 2004 elections.
He joined the exclusivist group of media moguls in Romania by buying Adevarul broadsheet and a tabloid in 2004 and has since announced plans to launch two new television stations and other outlets.