February 15, 2017
Romania experienced in the last two weeks a great instability in the political sphere that brought half a million people on streets protesting. In order to better understand the situation, we asked AEGEE members to share their experience from the protests in Romania.
“I think more and more people realize what it means to “actively contribute to your democracy”.”
The largest protests since 1989 – the fall of the communism dictatorship in Romania – are taking place right now in Romania. The current government lead by the Prime Minister and member of the left-wing Social Democratic Party (PSD), Sorin Grindeanu, approved on the 31st of January an emergency decree that would decriminalize several offences. ”Basically, the laws raised the limit of power abuse prejudices to 200.000 RON (about 44.000 EUR), and pardoned all jailed criminals with sentences of less than five years. When the respective Minister confirmed his intentions, concerned citizens started taking to the streets to voice their disapproval. Two major protests of 10 to 30 thousand people had already taken place, when the Government passed the laws in emergency mode, without any prior discussions with related judicial institutions or by making the Penal Code changes public.” (Andrei). Despite the fact that the order has been withdrawn, the protests continued in the whole country demanding the resignation of the government.
” (…) we came to realise that we are the ones in power. We, the people.”
However, the reasons provided for this decision was the prison overcrowding in Romania – some of which have a rate of occupancy of 100% or even 200%. ”My first reaction was of shock. Using the warning from the European Court of Human Rights regarding the overpopulation of prisons in Romania, the Government decided to exploit it and get a portion of their corrupt party members out.” (Florinel)
Others see it as an escape for many politicians that are suspected of corruption. ”The party was known to have numerous members accused of corruption, many formers ones having been already convicted.” (Andrei). One of them is also Liviu Dragnea, president of PSD, according to BBC is accused of defrauding the state of $26,000.
”I felt we bounced back in terms of democratization and hearing about the official letters Romania received from numerous other states saying this will undo 10 years of progress against corruption, it became clear we must oppose this.” (Florinel)
” (…) shortly after waking up the next morning, (…) I booked a plane to Bucharest, so that I can properly voice my disapproval.”
The current government came into power at the last parliamentary elections in December 2016. ”Despite of all warnings sent by the press, PSD received over 40% of the ballots, and by the end of the year the country was poised for an equivocal Parliament and Government.” (Andrei)
At the elections only about 30% of the Romanian youth took part being strongly criticised because of the low number of attendance. At the protests ”I met an old man saying: “be ashamed. It is your fault they do what they do. You chose not to vote.” (…) Even more, I felt guilty because I chose not to vote on December the 11th, blaming the projects for school.” (Laura)
The protests are described as being the voice of the young people, of the first generation that is not linked in any way to the communist period. Laura talks about the most exciting moment during the protests when ”the students from Cluj-Napoca met in the same spot, and then left together singing: “6, 6 vin studentii” which means “be careful, the students are coming”. The other people clapped as a form of respect for the youth, for the future generation. I almost cried, feeling important, blessed and respected.” (Laura)
” (…) from all of the sudden, and thousands and thousands of people started to sing the national hymn (…) it got me really emotional and it’s the most wonderful feeling that you can experience.”
Piata Victoriei (The Victory Square), in front of the government building was one of the core locations of the protests. ”Young and old, from students to employees in the private sector to retired citizens, Piata Victoriei represented all society classes and was united in condemning immoral leadership and lack of transparency. Needless to say, the protests were peaceful. On Sunday evening (5th of February), about 250 thousand gathered in the Bucharest square, summing up to around 600 thousand in the whole of Romania. The corruption battle is by no means over, but the Romanian civic spirit has only just begun rising.” (Andrei)
”(…) we all formed a circle and sang our national anthem. It goes to show we are against our Government, not our country.”
The ongoing protests have turned out to show the creativity of the people and their civic spirit. ” (…) the people brought their kids along, so that they could remember what the consequences of doing something against the law are. An act of civic education for their children.” (Laura)
” I feel like people are more aware of the consequences a new law or ordinance might have on their or their children’s well being. We like to insert some humour in our demonstrations, I’ve seen cardboard cut outs of our Prime Minister and the Leader of the ruling party dressed in prison outfits. We got a real confidence boost from Romanians protesting in every major city around the world.” (Florinel)
“In my hometown (Sibiu) at one moment there were more than 40,000 people protesting. It is an amazing number, taking into consideration that the city has 150,000 inhabitants. That means about 25% of the population of the city. When talking about protesting, this is a huge number! Besides this, people were very creative when protesting. At one point they all gathered and protested against corruption by reading books.” (Maria)
Even though, the protests were peaceful, there were also some incidents that might have changed the course of the protests. “In one of the days (Feb 01), there were some agitators that were throwing firecrackers randomly in the crowd. Although it was a bad experience, I was glad that the crowd immediately amerced this gestures with booing and anti-violence scansions.” (Florin)
For many the culture of protesting and the last happenings are considered to already have become a movement with the main motto “#rezist” (“#Iresist”). ”It’s bigger. People have had enough. Younger generations can prove to shape the future of this country.” (Sebastian)
“I was disappointed to see that European & international media reacted so late at the happenings in Romania.”
Media coverage in Romania presented many different points of view, for and against the protests. ”Media had different sides of what is actually going on, so you have to be very careful what you are listening/reading. People need to keep their eyes wide open in order to see what is truly happening (…)” (Raluca)
”I realised that international coverage is very important at that point, but was utterly disappointed to find out that in Germany only a handful of sources had covered the story one day afterwards.” (Andrei)
”The voice of Romania’s youth will be heard.”
Romania is confronting itself for a long period already with a high number of young people that leave the country, but when looking into the future what do the young people of Romania have to say?
”My wish it would be to stay strong and continue the fight. The Government maybe backed down with this ordinance, but that’s not to stop it from trying a different way of getting their dirty friends out of jail early or avoiding it. Romania should serve as a model in the Balkan region but never stop improving its fight against corruption.” (Florinel)
”Romania needs to change. The new has to overcome the old. Our parents grew up in a different Romania where freedom of speech and such things were persecuted. And some of that mentality stuck with them after the Regime fell. But we’re not afraid. The voice of Romania’s youth will be heard.” (Sebastian)
”I have confidence in the future generation and I strongly believe that Romania will change, but in the long run. Nowadays, there are still people influenced by the communist mentality.” (Laura)
Shared stories by:
Andrei Ionita, Romanian living and studying in Aachen, Germany.
Florin Iancu, former member of AEGEE-Bucuresti.
Florinel Tudor, studying in Ploiesti, Romania.
Laura Vaduva, studying in Cluj-Napoca, Romania.
Raluca Radu, former president of AEGEE-Cluj-Napoca and studying in Cluj-Napoca, Romania.
Sebastian Sabo, former member of AEGEE-Cluj-Napoca work as a graphic designer in Cluj-Napoca, Romania.
Written by Maria Maris.
- ”Procentual, de la Sibiu au iesit cei mai multi oameni la protestele de duminica”, 06.02.2017, by Turnul Sfatului
- ”Rezultatele alegerilor parlamentare 2016”, 15.12.2016, by Libertatea
- ”Romania protests grow over corruption decree”, 02.02.2017, by BBC
- ”Thouasnds continue protests against government in Romania”, 12.02.2017, by Reuters
- ”10 days that shook Romania”, 13.02.2017, by Politico
- ”Everything to Know About Romania’s Anti-Corruption Protests”, 06.02.2017, by Time