Romania 2017: A closer look at Romanian protests and political background

We published the first part on recent protests in Romania, with real Romanians’ stories. Today we continue with more witness accounts, as well as in depth analysis by people involved in the events, and their current worries.

Media accounts transition from initial reports on Romanians peacefully taking the streets to more in depth analysis of what they now call a culture of protestBalkan Insight and Euronews focus more on the insight of the phenomenon rather than just on the factual news.

 

Image by Anca Poncea, showing one of the placards used in Victory Square, Bucharest.

Young Romanian protesters struggle with the generation gap

In the middle of the turmoil these days, Romanians’ their hopes, but also fears about the current situation in their country emerge. Many express enthusiasm over how united the protesters are, but there is another side of the whole picture.

One recurring theme is the conflict between generations. The Social Democratic Party (Partidul Social Democrat – PSD) reportedly has the vote of the more senior population: over half (54%) of the voters aged 55-64 supported them. PSD won the elections more than any other Romanian political fraction after the fall of Ceausescu.

Anca Poncea (HR manager, Bucharest), whom I have interviewed online, tells us how she finds it difficult to understand or resolve this gap between her and her older relatives, some of whom are still supporting the political party in power:

This is something that I don’t understand: you also have my values, you also worked hard during your life. You didn’t have the same social, cultural and economical context I have, but you also have my values. Then why would you protect people who haven’t got any kind of values, like let’s say Dragnea?

Listen below to the podcast of my talk to Anca, where she explains the reasons she was out in Victory Square freezing in the Romanian winter nights. She also expresses her disappointment with the older generation failing to understand.

 

Another Romanian agreed to answer a set of questions only if we protected his identity. Despite having published on Facebook about his engagement, Doru S. (not his real name) mentioned he would possibly get in trouble with his employer had he go openly about this in the media.

First, we asked Doru on what the protesters hope to achieve and what are the real prospects for political change. He replied:

There are significant chances that Romania will learn a lot from this moment and use it to evolve, but currently there are two important conceptual threats that we are facing as a society:
1. Accepting abusive and self-servicing legislation that de-fangs the anti-corruption fight.
2. Turning the protests against a certain political party and changing the results of the recent elections by means of street movements. Sadly, most of the protesters are only focused on the first threat and do not take the second one seriously. PSD won almost 4 million votes in these elections and the rules of democracy say that they need to be allowed to erode themselves and lose the confidence of their voters and not be martyrized by social movements that seem to place unneeded burdens on their governing.

 

The protesters now have the upper-hand, after having created fear in the ruling political party, but if they push for a short-term victory in terms of governance change, Romania as a whole might lose in the medium-long run in terms of democratic participation and responsiveness.

The friend who introduced me to Doru recommended him as a sociologist who can give a more insightful analysis of the events. We asked Doru about the divisions within the Romanian society, and here is his response:

There is a huge conflict brewing in Romanian society, but it is not only a conflict between generations age-wise. This conflict cuts across multiple differentiators, such as young-old, rural-urban, educated-uneducated, poor-rich, etc.

 

Being at the outskirts of the European Union, Romania has developed economically in a very chaotic manner, generally forgetting about issues of social equality and social inclusion. The economic crisis further increased these disparities and the attention paid by governing factors to solving or even addressing these issues. PSD won the elections very much by giving some of the people left behind the impression that they too could be represented politically, although their political program does too little to bridge these divides.

 

As long as PSD’s electorate is mainly made of people who feel left behind and ignored, this electorate is also vulnerable to scare tactics, conspiracy theories and easy to polarize against the rest of the country. And that is exactly what PSD will do if the street protests push the government out or make it impossible for them to govern.

Are Romanian political practices going back to Ceausescu’s era?

After the initial euphoria, concerns started to arise. Adrian Docea (Alba Iulia) presents, on his Facebook account, the following list of seeming repercussions following the protests (we will translate some of them):

The only protester in Odobesti has just been called to court by the PSD mayor.
In Bucharest, the person who projected messages in Victory Square was called to the police station.
A PSD parliament member just gave the finger to the Romanian president during his official speech.
The most vocal anti-corruption city in the country, Cluj, gets 13x less money for roads than Teleorman.
(Note: Teleorman is the county represented by Dragnea, the head of PSD)
People from counties with PSD leadership are threatened with losing their jobs should they not take the streets to show support for the party.
Some PSD members are asking the Romanian Secret Service to investigate the multinational companies who allowed their employees to leave earlier for the protests.

 

If proven true, such political acts sound reminiscent of an era which Romania still seems to struggle to leave behind.

Andrei also calls for the Socialists and Democrats Group in the European Parliament to exclude the Romanian PSD. An online petition has been started in this regard.

Romanians keep hopes and humour up

Despite the concerns and apparent repercussions, Romanians seem to keep their hopes and, most of all, humour. They have still been out in the streets last night, despite the snow fall which covered Bucharest again.

 

The caricaturist Costel Patrascan posted, when the protests started, one of his sketches to become very popular on Facebook (left).

It reads:

– What are you doing here?
– We are passing emergency ordinances.

 

 

 

 

Also internet humour folklore by now, the following image apparently originate on 9gag. It shows Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros, a favourite for conspiracy theories worldwide. Politically spread rumours  have claimed in Romania for years that he is paying protesters against any Government in power at the time.

 

 

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