News & Analysis

Romanians Take to the Streets in New Mass Protest

In the heaviest snow of the winter thus far, at least 70,000 Romanians rallied in Bucharest on January 20 in the latest mass demonstration against the proposed weakening of the country’s anti-corruption laws, and changes to the fiscal code which will force the self-employed to pay far higher social contributions. Many more took part in protests in other major towns and cities across the country.

The protest in Bucharest was the largest in recent months, one of many which have gripped the country for almost a year. While largely peaceful, there were a few scuffles with police as protesters gathered in Bucharest’s Piata Universitatii. The situation was at its most tense when police attempted to stop protesters exiting Universitate metro station to join the assembling crowds.

“Over the past year we have seen how the ruling coalition has attempted to weaken the justice system, weakening the economy and place wholly incompetent personnel in key positions,” said Siegfried Muresan, a Romanian MEP and spokesperson for the European People’s Party, who took part in the demonstration. “Romania has had two incompetent prime ministers over the past year, and now a third incompetent candidate has been nominated to take the job. Laws changing the justice system have been adopted in parliament, the economic situation is deteriorating, inflation is climbing and prices rising. Things are bad, and that’s why people came out onto the streets. My duty as a politician is to be alongside them.”

Mr Muresan went on to call for fresh protests on the evening before the new government of Viorica Dancila faces its vote of investiture in Romania’s parliament. The vote is likely to take place on January 29.

An attempt by the ruling PSD-ALDE coalition to decriminalise several corruption offences at the start of 2017 triggered Romania’s largest street protests since the fall of Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989, forcing the government to backtrack, annulling an emergency ordinance which would have seen many figures the ruling party pardoned. Since then the government has been trying to pass its anti-justice laws piecemeal through parliament. Two pieces of legislation are currently waiting to be signed off by President Klaus Iohannis. He referred one to the country’s constitutional court on January 19, claiming that an amendment which would allow elected officials to run businesses while in office would “diminish standards of integrity.”

The ruling coalition itself has called the protest ‘irresponsible’. A leading member of the PSD and former Education Minister Ecaterina Andronescu said that the demonstrations “give the impression to foreign observers that Romania is ungovernable.”

Photo: © Adrian Câtu / Documentaria