Romanian President H.E. Ion Iliescu received the University President’s Medal Monday and said his country was committed to the reconstruction of Iraq.
GW awarded the medal to Iliescu for his commitment to democracy and human rights. The President’s Medal, first awarded by GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg in 1988, is the highest honor the president can bestow on someone.
“The United States represents a great partner and friend of Romania and I am glad to be here,” Iliescu said.
John Williams, University provost and director of health affairs, praised Iliescu for his country’s transition from a communist state to a democracy and its alignment with the West.
“Romania has come a long way since the fundamental wave of transition that swept Eastern Europe in ’89,” Iliescu said. “(This) transition has instilled self-esteem in our nation because we now live in a democracy and have the freedom to live in a market economy. Romanians value freedom because they lived without it.”
Illiescu was also on hand to discuss his book, “The Romanian Journey: Internal Reform and International Security Contribution in the Context of Transatlantic Integration and Globalization.”
“It is now important to make a careful assessment of what confronts modern societies and the economy,” he said. “One cannot have a stable democracy in a poor country. Romania has to strive through major economic reform. Our progress could not have been possible without American and European support.”
For 35 years, Romania was mired in social and economic deadlock, until heightened popular discontent grew and triggered the forced overthrow of Nicolae Ceausescu’s dictatorial regime in December 1989.
“To build a better future Romania has to take the necessary steps to come to terms of the legacy of the past,” Iliescu said.
University officials decided to award the president’s medal, GW’s highest honor, to Iliescu despite the absence of President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, who returned from the Middle East Wednesday.
“The presentation correlated with Iliescu’s visit to the United States while promoting his book and it just happened to be when President Trachtenberg was out of town,” said Matthew Nehmer, acting assistant director of media relations. “The timelines just didn’t line up logistically.”
During a question and answer session at the end of the program Iliescu was asked whether Romania felt closer to the U.S. or Europe.
“(Whether Romania is) with Europe or with the US is a false problem,” Iliescu said. “How to strengthen, in a democratic context, the solidarity and unity alliance with trans-Atlantic communities (should be what we are focusing on).”
Iliescu said that he is supportive of the American occupation of Iraq and pointed out that Romanian troops are “working shoulder to shoulder with the US troops” in order to bring peace to the country. About 400 Romanian troops are policing the Iraqi city of Basra.
“The question is not just the presence of troops, but what the reality is in this area and what the goals are of this intervention,” he said. “It is such a role of democracies to help nations in need of progressive intervention.”