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Romania: “I, the Citizen”

Street protests in Romania have been going on for over a week now. People are demanding early elections, and the talk continues in the Romanian online space on who the protesters are, what they want and what the aftermath of the protests will be. People in the streets do not yet have a leader, but they nevertheless have a powerful voice – and change seems to start happening.

On Monday, January 23, 2012, Prime Minister Emil Boc fired the Foreign Affairs Minister Teodor Baconschi – a week after the latter posted this on his personal blog [ro]:

One thing is becoming ever more clear for Romanians with common sense. A life-and-death fight has started between the forces of the past and the project of a new Romania. The opposition has finally activated the entire arsenal inherited from the communists: armed punks, misinformation, hate propaganda. […] This year will be crucial for Romania. The choice is simple: reform, responsibility and safety – or involution, populism and the rule of a club. But the choice will be made by the earnest Romania, the hard-working Romania, the forward-looking Romania, and not by the violent and inept slums lined up, just like the miners of the past, behind the heirs of the former communist [Securitate].

Journalist Bogdan Ciuclaru writes [ro] about citizen responsibility, which Romanians, tired of being listened to only during election campaigns, are starting to exercise:

I too am disappointed by Traian Basescu and I am not willing to allow the couple [Victor Ponta and Crin Antonescu, the two main opposition leaders from USL/Social Liberal Union] to do the same thing to me. Traian Basescu was the last representative of the National Salvation Front generation [the first party formed after the 1989 revolution] that I trusted and even liked. In 2004, he was a phenomenon, a skillful political figure, an alternative to a gang, a sort of a chili pepper… I do not think he cheated me – rather, he disappointed me because he turned exactly into what he seemed to want to condemn or fix. After trying out Traian Basescu, I think we have run out of reasonable options, and the only person I can trust now is myself – I, the citizen… I am not allowed to disappoint at home, in my car or in the street. I am not allowed to disappoint the bank, either, if I think about it. For citizens, the rule of disappointment is stricter. If you want to feel good about yourself, you’ll continue playing according to this rule and be careful not to disappoint your parents, family, colleagues, bosses and so on.

[...] Politics seems the easiest way of practising disappointment 100 times more intensely. When you are exposed to such a disappointment, you are left with few alternative options: voting and protesting. Traian Basescu’s evolution and that of other figures he proposed or supported makes me doubt my first option and pay closer attention to the second. For me it’s not enough to be listened to once every four years. That is the reason I took to the streets… If I did nothing, I would feel I’m disappointing.

I believe it’s a good thing people are protesting and expressing their discontent with a louder voice. This is just about the only way the authorities can still take us seriously. There’s no point in having wireless and central heating and buses if we are constantly followed by this frustration of not being listened to by those who we elected to lead us…

Protesters gather in Bucharest to protest austerity measures. Photo by GEORGECALIN, copyright © Demotix (19/01/12).

Protesters gather in Bucharest to protest austerity measures. Photo by GEORGECALIN, copyright © Demotix (19/01/12).

Romanian society has been quite passive over the past 22 years, and journalist Vasile Ernu suggests showing unity by turning the current protests white [ro]:

It’s getting harder and harder to get people out in the streets. We can, perhaps, gather 2,000, or 5,000, or maybe even 15,000, but it’s very hard. Why? For various reasons. We have forgotten how to protest, we have been fragmented, we have forgotten how to be united and brave, we have forgotten that beyond self-interest there’s a common one, which gives meaning to a society. We have gotten used to being humiliated and we have forgotten that we too can be a force that those in power should fear.

There’s still something we can do… What if we start wearing white ribbons or white scarves? We could wear them on our lapel or pinned on our chest, around our neck or wrist. All of them white. We could hang them outside our windows and cars. At first we would be 5,000, after that 15,000, after that 100,000 and after that one million. There would be more and more of us… Not anyone can take to the streets, but this gesture can be done by anyone who feels revolted and discontented with those in power. At first, we'll be shy and scared, but when you and I meet, we'll recognize each other. At first, there'll be just a few of us, and after that more and more will unite and become brave. Gradually, from me to you, from neighbour to neighbour, from a protester to a gendarme, more and more people will be wearing white ribbons. A minimum effort without violence. [...]

Some slogans of the Romanian protesters are against the entire political class. Still, who will the voters choose from in the upcoming elections at the end of the year? Catalin Tolontan imagines life after the protests [ro]:

I do not credit ahead of time any of the new political movements. What I believe is we cannot afford to come to the point when we can no longer hear ideas because of how imperfect the voices expressing them are.

We all live imperfect lives, but we expect of those who lead us to live outstanding lives. In such a case, we, and not them, are the hypocrites. Any one of those people at the University Square – women and men I greatly admire are expressing themselves there – has his or her weaknesses. [...]

[...]

I have my own doubts as a reporter and old quarrels with Crin Antonescu [an opposition leader and a future presidential candidate], though I like it that these days he dared to say, repeatedly, that political party members are not inferior to those who took to the streets all over Romania. Party members militate daily in their virtual agorae. What should we tell them? Leave us, we are immaculate! Sure, we can continue to hate the differences and long for a man on a white horse. We look towards the horizon. For now white belongs only to the snow, the only solution for those in power, a homogenous and cold snow in which we lose ourselves pure, unsoiled and isolated.

Finally, journalist Radu Tudor comments [ro] on Crin Antonescu’s statement that the resignation of the USL's MPs from the Romanian Parliament is merely a matter of days:

Personally, I have been asking this for a year and a half. After the dark night of the Romanian democracy, September 15, 2010, when Anastase Roberta Alma [president of the Chamber of Deputies in the Romanian Parliament] together with 80 MPs from the ruling coalition cheated on the vote on the pension bill, the opposition seems to have finally understood that it can no longer remain side by side with the thieves of the current regime. […]

I am very anxious and curious about whether the opposition will honour this engagement.

This would mean total solidarity with the thousands of discontented people protesting all over Romania.

This would probably be the final sprint in winning the elections.

Now intelligence is being sifted out from stupidity. We shall see…

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