Protesting in Romania: a matter of principle
Romanians have been demonstrating for more than a week in the main cities of the country and the world in order to send a strong message to their government: Romanians are extremely sick of corruption. The protest started on on the evening of Thursday 31st of January, after the Government unexpectedly adopted an emergency ordinance, which would partly decriminalize a number of corruption offences such as abuse of office, conflict of interest and negligence at work. An example of such measures is the one that would set at 200,000 Romanian Lei (around 44,000 Euros) the limit under which abuse of office is not considered a crime, reducing the punishment for this offence from 2 to 10 years to 6 months of detention, or, in some cases, to the mere payment of a fine. This is definitely not the best decision to continue Romania’s fight against corruption, and it explains why thousands of Romanian citizens rallied in Bucharest and other big cities for spontaneous protests against the government decision.
The events have been observed closely by the European Commission: “We are following the latest developments in Romania with great concern”, commented the EC President Jean-Claude Junker and First Vice- President Frans Timmermans. The two officers have also highlighted that every step that may undermine the ultimate progress of Romania’s fight against corruption “would have an impact on any future assessment” of the country’s status in the European Union.
But what is actually happening in the streets of the country? Andy, a 27-year-old man from Bucharest, describes to Pequod the situation in the capital: “We are protesting against the new government’s plan to decriminalize certain forms of corruption. Ordinance 13/2017 was passed late on Tuesday night, giving birth to one of the most popular slogans shouted by the protesters ‘At night, like thieves!’” Andy is extremely proud and somewhat surprised to see how many people (300,000 participants only in Bucharest, and 600,000 across the country on the busiest day of the protest) have gathered to express anger over something that doesn’t impact their lives directly, but is rather a matter of principle.
The main protest in Bucharest has been taking place in the middle of Piaţa Victoriei (Victory Square), just in front of the headquarters of Romanian government. The atmosphere is unique and what makes it even more special are banners, flags and creative slogans. “We have a saying – Andy tells – “that goes: ‘The Romanians were born poets‘ and I think that the recent protests are a demonstration of our people’s soul. On Victory Square, you would alternate between anger and laughter until you become breathless seeing a brilliant poem or drawing somewhere around you”.
Simultaneously, the protests have been going beyond the Romanian borders. Nowadays manifestations have a very wide appeal and a more international breath which are definitely due to the Internet, which helped overcome the reticence of many to participate to this sort of event, removing stigma and allowing more people to perceive protests in a more positive way. Thanks to the new technologies, people are constantly connected to each other and share their everyday life and what they care about: not only gossip then, but also serious issues, like the defence of human rights. This is what happened at the Women March on Washington on January 21st, which saw an unprecedented resonance all over the planet being a trend topic in all social network. The same happened in Romania’s case: Romanian migrants from any corner of the globe have been joining demonstrations and gathering in the main squares of the cities where they now live, marching and taking photographs, all sending the same message: no more corruption.
Anda, a 20-year-old woman, is protesting in Manchester (UK) because “even though I am not back at home, by protesting here I can support my family and friends. We are protesting as we want Romania to be a place to go back to.” Anda and other Romanian expats living in the Mancunian city are gathering in Albert Square, shouting various slogans and taking photographs to be sent to Romania’s media: “We got some articles published to tell people in our country that we care and we fully support them.” Anda truly believes that the most important change needs to come from normal people, regular citizens who vote: “I also think that people find it necessary to be better informed when they vote.”
At the end of 2015, after the protests sparked by the Colectiv nightclub fire in Bucharest, which which resulted in the death of 64 people, the former government, led by the Social Democratic Party, was indirectly blamed on corruption and eventually brought down. As a consequence the country was led for for a short period of time by a technocratic cabinet that enhanced the country reputation. Thanks to this technocracy Romania began to earn a name of itself as a beacon of the fight against corruption, with concrete results. Despite this, Romania’s current government is once again led by the Social Democratic Party, which secured victory in the December 2016 legislative elections earning 45% of votes. The overall turnout was only 39%.
Romanian protestors are currently asking the government to resign. Liana, a young lady living in Bucharest, has been participating to the demonstration in Victory Square, explains her ambition: “The party who won the elections should elect a new government to continue with their plan, to appoint responsible and decent people. A different government should be done, as this one managed to show in such a short time that it is not ready to rule.” Liana voted at the last elections and hopes that the current events will constitute an important lesson for all those who didn’t. Andy too is disconcerted that millions of young people didn’t vote: “I cannot possibly understand how this happened, especially since it happened little over a year after Colectiv fire. Who did vote, however, was the older generation and people in rural areas who were bought with promises or bags of basic household necessities like flour, oil, eggs. Yes, literally.”
Cover Image: Bucuresti Piata Victoriei, February 8, 2017. Credits: Dan Mihai Balanescu.
To read this article in Italian: here the link.