Mass Upheaval, Political Crisis Rock Romania: Tens of Thousands Take to the Streets, Night After Night
February 10, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Late Tuesday, January 31, the newly elected Social Democratic Party (a bourgeois or capitalist party) in Romania, a country of 20 million in Southeastern Europe, abruptly rammed through an emergency decree in the dead of night. The decree, which didn’t have to be approved by Parliament, removed criminal penalties on government officials who take bribes or engage in other forms of corruption—as long as the take is less than $47,000. Liviu Dragnea, the head of the Social Democrats, is facing corruption charges and could directly benefit from the law. Romanian courts and judicial bodies have backed some anti-corruption reforms in recent years and immediately challenged the law.
Then something unexpected happened.
The next day 20,000 people took to the streets in the capital, Bucharest. The day after, Wednesday, the numbers grew 10 fold, to 250,000 across Romania, with half protesting in the capital. The government attempted to halt the spread of this mass upheaval by forcing a number of officials to resign and, on February 4, by rescinding the new law. No matter, the next day a half-million people were in the streets, across Romania, 250,000 in Bucharest alone, equivalent to 8 million demonstrating on a single day in the U.S. And these protests haven’t stopped at this writing.
“Thieves, thieves, thieves!” Protesters have shouted. (New York Times, February 2, 2017) “We came to protest against these immoral and mafia-type government methods.” (Democracy Now!, February 1, 2017)
The issue of corruption strikes deeply in Romania, where it is pervasive, and a flashpoint for the many abuses facing the masses in this oppressive and impoverished country. (Romania is one of the poorest countries in the European Union and horse drawn carts are still a frequent sight in Romania’s countryside.)
Protesters interviewed by the New York Times spoke of “constant, everyday bribery—at hospitals, schools and public institutions... Many were infuriated by the government’s decree, which would have directly benefitted some prominent politicians....” (February 10). Doctors told of colleagues forcing patients to give them bribes just to get treatment; patients talked of going to hospitals and having to bribe doormen, nurses, assistants, residents, and doctors. One professor said he’d been under pressure from colleagues to accept bribes to pass failing students, and punished for refusing to do so. “I’ve had to pay bribes in order to get normal things done that should have required no payment,” one Romanian told the New York Times, “like getting power back after it was cut for nonpayment.” When a 2015 nightclub fire in Bucharest killed 64 people, many blamed corruption. It triggered protests and Romania’s prime minister was forced to face corruption charges, the first sitting Romanian prime minister to do so.
Romania’s protests seem to be deepening. Many reportedly have the sense that this new decree is an attack on the rule of law and peoples’ rights. There’s a growing sense of the illegitimacy of the current government and things are in real flux. “We are keeping our positions strong, and we want our government to resign,” one protester said. “Because we cannot trust this government, because they’re crouching in the middle of the night, passing laws for corrupt politicians. We cannot trust this government anymore. So, the only thing that can satisfy us right now is the resignation of the prime minister and the government itself.” (Democracy Now!, February 6, 2017)
These protests are very significant. They show how quickly hundreds of thousands (or millions!) can be propelled into mass political action, and how quickly that in turn can change the whole political landscape—including having the potential to force governments to fall. And Romania’s mass uprising is running counter to the rise of Trump-like, fascist populism across Eastern and Central Europe, including in Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
Given the urgency of driving the fascist Trump-Pence regime from power, there is much to learn from and be inspired by in the example of the people of Romania.
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