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Romania: “A Tsunami” of Protests Against Austerity Cuts and Corruption

After five days of protests in Romania, representatives of the Romanian police are assessing the resulting material damage, the number of weapons confiscated and people held in custody at police stations. The Romanian on-line community is trying to explain why people have taken to the streets, what the authorities’ response was and what the outcome of the protests might be.

On Jan. 15, journalist Radu Tudor compared [ro] the protests to “a tsunami” sweeping everything in its path:

Thousands of protesters in Bucharest, Brasov, Timisoara, Pitesti, Deva, Sibiu, Iasi, Cluj Napoca and other important Romanian cities have demanded loudly and clearly: the resignation of Boc Cabinet and of President Basescu. A democratic and relatively honorable resolution to this huge tension between the ruling authorities and the dissenting people are early elections.

[...]

In the minds of the majority, the decision has already been taken: the Basescu-Boc regime must end. This has caused desperate diversions with “hooligans” meant to partially compromise the legitimacy of the protests and to discourage people from taking to the streets. The violent rupture between the current rulers and the population can only have one verdict. A tsunami in favor of political change has already started, coming from ordinary citizens. It sweeps everything in its path. Especially, at the top.

Protesters in Bucharest are waving the Romanian flag and chanting slogans of support for Dr. Raed Arafat, but also against President Traian Basescu. Photo by ANDREI IONIȚĂ, copyright © Demotix (13/01/12).

Political scientist Alina Mungiu-Pippidi wrote this [ro] on Romania Curata, an anti-corruption portal:

[...] It was already time for protests. But when collective action is spontaneous, without leaders and planning, we run the risk of seeing again what happened with the [1989] Revolution – the legitimate protest being stolen, twisted and used and others taking advantage of it without actually changing anything of substance.

Traian Basescu deserves what is happening. Going outside the constitutional framework in order to hit a man who had already succeeded in implementing a reform – Raed Arafat – in the name of a future reform that even the World Bank, IMF and Romanian experts had doubts about, showing the same infallibility syndrome that reminds us of Ceausescu, he dropped the only guard that can protect a head of state. And that guard is the law and the rightfulness given to you by goodwill. No one is infallible, anyone can make mistakes, but at least you must be able to prove your goodwill.

[...]

After this week, the civil society has gone into clear opposition and its strength and territorial expansion have suddenly grown. The question is how we could institutionalize such an opposition and use it in order to have fair elections [...], and after the elections to use it for controlling those in power. [...]

Day 4 of the rallies against austerity cuts and falling living standards. Bucharest, Romania. Photo by GEORGECALIN, copyright © Demotix (16/01/12).

Journalist Radu Lungu answers [ro] the question many are asking these days – “Why have we taken to the streets?”:

Because what is happening in our society is our business. Because we really felt we were not living in a free country anymore. As all young people from our generation, who either remember very little from the communist days or were not even born yet, we too were manipulated by the media and political class. We were told that what is happening in the society we live in is none of our business, that educated people do not mix with the commoners. That we do not have their problems, that in our country nothing is done right and that that’s just the state of things. That standing up against this state of things is the same as being immature, uneducated. That we are going to leave abroad anyway and we’ll be rid of this impossible country. [...] We wanted to see with our own eyes what was going on, so we went into the streets with our cameras – unfortunately, we didn’t take our running shoes too, but you pick up the revolutionary fashion as you go along.

Radu Lungu recounts what he saw and lived through in the streets of downtown Bucharest:

At one point, the protesters stepped out into the road. Gendarmes formed a line and closed the group of people in, pushing them back onto the sidewalk. Many people coming back from a night out in the Old Town or standing in front of kiosks in the area were just caught in the middle and held by gendarmes. There was somebody holding some cheese in a bag, trying to explain to the police that he had bought it for himself and not in order to use it for violent purposes. People wanted to show their IDs to the gendarmes, but they refused to grant them this right. [...] People were also detained under the pretext that “now they can no longer leave” without being given any explanation. People were constantly asking to be searched and identified on the spot, according to Law 550 of the Criminal Code. Unfortunately, the crowd and the gendarmes could settle this legislative dispute only at police stations. [...] Still, the police at the station never had an aggressive tone. Many gendarmes just told us we were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Better to stay calm, sign some papers, take some photos and then off we went back home. I want to end my reporting with an appeal to calm and nonviolence. Personally, I will try to get as many people to come with copies of Laws 550 and 60 to hand to gendarmes on University Square. First, I thought of bringing copies of the entire Criminal Code, but then if we had the money for such intellectual accessories we would probably not take to the streets anymore.

A man is held on the ground by riot police, before being arrested. More than 1,000 of protesters clashed with police, who used tear gas to disperse them. Photo by ALEXANDRU DOBRE, copyright © Demotix (15/01/12).

On Jan. 17, following President Basescu’s requests, Raed Arafat returned to his position of deputy secretary of state at the Health Ministry and coordinator of the emergency medical system. Journalist Radu Tudor sees this gesture as the “official recognition that Basescu can be defeated”:

After having publicly humiliated Raed Arafat and having forced him to leave, on this day the infallible Basescu has died politically. But the huge wave of popular discontent is already in motion. Basescu is scared that [the opposition] is taking control of this discontent and this is actually the stake of Raed Arafat’s reinstatement. Neither respect for him, nor recognition of his value, but the fear that the opposition will benefit from the national outrage shown over the last few days in tens of Romanian cities. Raed Arafat’s reinstatement does not reinstate cut salaries, jobs, does not put a stop to prices going up, does not decrease VAT, does not rid millions of miserable people from huge worries created by this political regime. Raed Afarat’s reinstatement is the victory of the idea that Basescu and his gang can be defeated. [...]

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