I saw two recent news items that reflect on Romania.
Lance blogs about the ISI Web of Science. I first heard of this thing a few years ago, when the Romanian government instituted paper counting as the means for promotion in any public university. The flavor of paper counting was that you only count "articles" in ISI "A-ranked" publications. This means, for instance, that I could not get a job there, since all my journal papers are in special issues (so they don't count, plus I don't really have a clue which TCS journals are A-ranked).
Now, the basic idea of the Romanian government was not bad. The Romanian university system is fundamentally screwed up on all levels (I will post about this later). Anything that will force them to engage with the rest of the world is generally a good idea. For instance, I would support the idea of having committees that decide minimal area-specific requirements. Say, "you may not apply for a faculty job in TCS group before you have at least 2 papers in STOC, FOCS, SODA, or SoCG." The idea would not be paper counting, but forcing people to notice the outside world (they might like it, and stay involved). Anything except a formal requirement is unlikely to work (since all senior faculty never heard of the outside world, you cannot base the system on recommendation letters, or the idea that a hiring committee will make intelligent decisions).
But the ISI implementation of the idea turned out to be quite wrong. It does not work in TCS, for instance, and it is abused in the other disciplines, as well. The common strategy is to fight hard to get some Romanian journal in the ISI list (say, "Modern Metallurgy" as a somewhat fictional example). Then, accepting papers in that journal is no longer a question of merit, but one of connections (yes, of course your cousin's daughter will get a job in our department) and bribe (yes, editor, of course I will be glad to have you as co-investigator on my compiler optimizations grant). The journal starts being filled with articles like "Red-Black trees with Faster Deletions, and Applications to Steel Production."
On to the second piece of news. BBC and others ran articles on how Madonna was booed at her own concert in Romania, when she spoke against discrimination against gypsies. I thought it would be good to discuss some context for that.
Discrimination against gypsies has its roots in the vanilla-flavored discrimination against any minority which is poor, uneducated, and prone to engaging in criminal behavior. As with the black community in the US, the most frequent critique that you hear in Romania is that the "uneducated" feature was by choice, i.e. it stems from the traditional values of the community. There is probably more of a case for this in Romania (where the communist regime made education mandatory, showered students with fellowships, and made all decisions based on anonymous written exams) than in the US (where many inner city schools are in disarray).
As far as I can tell, education or a stable job eliminates discrimination; we certainly had gypsy teachers in high school, and I never heard any negative comment about it. Again this is different from the US, where affirmative action programs have created a way to rationalize discrimination, even, say, against black MIT alumni.
In any case, contemporary discrimination against gypsies is driven by something quite different: a certain segment of the European media and politicians. Today, there is wide-spread (and very vocal) discrimination against Romanians in some European countries, with extremist politicians calling for mass deportations and things like that.
Again, this is vanilla-flavored discrimination against the large immigrant group who is willing to do more work for less money. But as wage and unemployment numbers don't make good ratings, the media show is built on specific examples: the accordion-playing beggars with 3 naked children in their arms, the pick-pockets, the guys who ate the swans from some park, the shanty houses outside Rome...
The problem? These people are usually gypsies bearing Romanian passports. These highly publicized examples have created a great deal of resentment among Romanians, both towards the Europeans who fail to understand the local ethnic differences, and towards the easier target, the gypsy community.
To illustrate this feeling, I attach a song from a well-known Romanian hip-hop band entitled "Message for Europe." (Warning: strong language, especially in Romanian; the English subtitles are not too good, and nothing can really do justice to the brilliant lyrics -- but you get the idea.)