Equal Times – Demonstrations in Romania: symptoms of a deeper malaise

Romania is again in crisis. For the last few weeks, for the second time this year, there have been demonstrations in towns and cities around the country.  On Sunday evenings, responding to the call of several groups formed through social media, the streets of Bucharest, Iasi, Cluj-Napoca and Timisoara are flooded with hundreds of people venting their exasperation at the Social Democratic Party (PSD), which has been in power since 2012, says Equal Times.

 

On Sunday 26 November, trade unions linked to civil society organisations issued a joint call for a protest against judicial and fiscal reforms. Some 30,000 people answered the call in Romania’s capital city, while about 20,000 mobilised in other cities around the country.

The movement is by no means as big as the one that shook the country last January and February, but essentially their complaint is the same: the weakening of the anti-corruption drive.

The Romanian parliament is again trying to pass a series of laws aimed at reducing the independence of magistrates, which would undermine their effectiveness and above all that of the Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA).

Since its creation in 2002, this institution has been carrying out a veritable “clean-up” of the political class – and anti-corruption was one of the prerequisites of Romania’s membership of the European Union.

No political office, and no political party, has been spared. The case of Liviu Dragnea, president of the PSD and the country’s most powerful man, speaks volumes: two years ago he was given a two-year suspended sentence for electoral fraud.

He is currently on trial again, over fictitious jobs; and on 13 November he appeared for a hearing before the DNA which seized property from him for a total value of €27.3 million, in a fraud case involving European funds.

Anti-corruption drive: the red line that must not be crossed

In Romania, a country where inequality is flagrant, where one person in five lives below the poverty line, where one-third of employees are paid the minimum wage, attacks on the anti-corruption drive are too much to bear.

“After the fall of communism, some politicians and business leaders became rich overnight through the dubious privatisation of public industries. But then one day, they found themselves in court and going to prison, and had their money confiscated,” says Mircea Mare, a 30-year-old web developer involved in the civil society movements.

“We don’t want to see justice moving backwards, when it has at last become effective,” says Mircea, who has been out on the streets of Cluj-Napoca several times to protest against the decisions of parliament.

And there has been plenty to protest about in recent years: first there was the “Black Tuesday of the anti-corruption drive” when members of parliament took the country by surprise on 10 December 2013 by voting in favour of their own “super immunity”; then on 30 October 2015 a deadly fire broke out in a Bucharest nightclub called Colectiv, killing 65 people.

This disaster revealed “a system that mixed incompetence with shady deals and negligence” and provoked huge demonstrations, leading to the fall of the PSD government, although it returned to power just a few months later.

Finally, Decree 13, adopted on 31 January 2017, foresaw changes to the penal code in favour of politicians sentenced on corruption charges. The Romanian people were enraged, and 600,000 people came out onto the streets. It was the biggest protest movement the country had seen since the end of communism.

 

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