‘Romania is facing the largest protests since the collapse of communism’ said Bloomberg.
To the disapproval of Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, the new coalition of the left-leaning PSD (Social Democrats) and the ALDE (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats) seem to be ‘testing the limits of their power, as administrations in Poland and Hungary have done recently.’
On the evening of the 31st January, the new government passed an emergency decree decriminalizing certain offences, including official misconduct in cases with sums involving less than 200,000 lei (£38,000). ‘The government says the order and another draft bill on jail pardons are needed to ease prison overcrowding,’ said The Guardian, ‘and to bring the criminal code into line with recent constitutional court rulings.’
‘There should be no doubt who won the elections,’ said PSD leader Liviu Dragnea said about the results, ‘Romanians want to feel at home in their own country and I want Romania to be a good home for all Romanians.’
However, many saw the ruling as immoral and unlawful, and by midnight large crowds of outraged demonstrators had gathered all over the country to protest against the decree. Estimates suggest that there were 12,000 demonstrators in Bucharest alone.
The country already ranks fourth worst out of the 28 EU member states for corruption, according to Transparency International, and the new decree was seen as a further legitimization of state fraud and theft.
Romanian President Klaus Iohannis who strongly opposed the emergency ruling, declared: ‘Today is a day of mourning for the rule of law.’
As the days passed without a response from the government, more and more people gathered in the streets, and the eventual refusal of Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu to withdraw the controversial measures only sparked further protests. Protests were organized in Bulgaria and Moldova in a show of solidarity for the Romanian demonstrators.
In response to the decree and ensuing protests, Jean-Claude Juncker, the head of the European Commission declared: ‘The fight against corruption needs to be advanced, not undone.’ According to CNN ‘the embassies of Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the United States have issued a joint statement echoing Juncker’s sentiments.’
Protesters have vowed to keep up the pressure on the cabinet, with some demanding that the entire government resigns, ’chanting that government officials are “thieves” and “the red plague,”’ Politico reported.
After several days of unrest, the government decided to withdraw the decree, but demonstrations are expected to continue. Last Sunday (05/02) a record 600,000 people took to the streets across Romania. ’The decree has been scrapped,’ said the BBC, ‘but protesters say the government has proved itself untrustworthy.’ There was, however, a counter-protest of about 2,000 people demonstrating in support of the PSD-ALDE government.
Spurred on by international support, and the eventual repealing of the decree, vast groups of anti-government demonstrators continue to mobilise across the country.