1. Changing the direction of Romania
BSSB.BE intellinews.com 09.08.2018
* Diaspora Romanians seek to revive flagging protest movement
One and a half years since Romania witnessed the largest protests in its post-communist history, with up to 600,000 people taking to the streets of the country’s biggest towns back in February 2017, another massive anti-government rally is planned for August 10, this time spearheaded by diaspora Romanians.
- Recent Romanian emigres living abroad are estimated at 4mn, with the largest numbers in Italy and Spain. Many still have strong ties to their homeland, flocking back to Romania for their summer holidays, and thousands have announced they will come to Bucharest on August 10 “to change the direction in which Romania is going”, according to the rally’s event page. Impressive numbers of protesters from all around Romania are also expected to arrive at Victory Square in Bucharest on the day of the protests, though the 1mn aimed for by the organisers seems optimistic.
Igniting the flame of protest
Protests have been taking place in Romania since the end of January 2017, when the government of the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) passed an emergency ordinance partly decriminalising abuse of office. The main beneficiary of the decree was seen as the powerful leader of the PSD, Liviu Dragnea, who was subsequently tried and convicted in an abuse of office case.
Protests were organised on a daily basis and continued even after the controversial decree was repealed by the then prime minister Sorin Grindeanu, with the masses demanding the resignation of Grindeanu and his justice minister Florin Iordache.
- Images such as the giant Romanian tricolore flag created from pieces of coloured paper upheld by the protesters, Victory Square illuminated by the lights on protesters’ mobile phones and the witty messages written on the banners are likely to remain symbols of the rallies that gathered hundreds of thousands of people despite the freezing temperatures in the winter of 2017.
- Smaller protests were organised in many other Romanian cities, while some chose to travel to Bucharest to take part in the protests. Several rallies were also organised in support of National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) head Laura Codruta Kovesi, who was dismissed by President Klaus Iohannisin July following a Constitutional Court ruling.
As the ruling coalition pushed ahead with their plans to remove Kovesi and change justice laws and criminal legislation, rallies continued to gather. However, fewer and fewer were taking to the streets to express their discontent with the way Romania is governed. The most recent protests in the summer of 2018 reached only around 5,000 people.
“None of the coalition’s actions was that abrupt and easy to understand as emergency ordinance 13 [the repealed decree partly decriminalising abuse of office],” sociologist Barbu Mateescu told bne IntelliNews, explaining the dwindling in support for the protests in recent months.
Meanwhile, the controversial justice bills and the changes to criminal legislation that were the subject of recent protests were adopted by the Romanian parliament, amid a wave of criticism from the EU and Romania’s international partners. The bills have been challenged by the opposition, the president and the High Court through the Constitutional Court. The court’s rulings are expected to be announced in September.
Untraditional forms of protest
At the same time, protests against the ruling PSD have intensified online. Maybe out of frustration that their messages were ignored by the ruling coalition, which continued to focus on changing justice legislation, unhappy Romanians expressed their discontent on social media or using more untraditional means — such as car number plates.
- The PSD mayor of Bucharest, Gabriela Firea, was forced to suspend her Facebook account several times in just two days, after it received a huge number of critical messages, while Prime Minister Viorica Dancila and PSD leader Dragnea have been lampooned in memes that went viral on social networks.
- Some used the repeated grammar or diplomatic protocol mistakes of gaffe-prone Prime Minister Viorica Dancila to transmit anti-government messages, not least her announcement that she planned “to reduce democracy” instead of “to reduce bureaucracy”. Many of the anti-corruption protesters are educated, urban Romanians who have been embarrassed by Dancila’s foreign policy mishaps — such as appearing to forget the name of her Estonian counterpart Juri Ratas during a joint press conference, and announcing during a visit to Montenegro’s capital Podgorica that she was “glad to be in Pristina”, the capital of Kosovo which is not recognised by Bucharest.
- Dragnea’s prison sentence also provided fertile grounds for mockery. The politician was recently sentenced to two and a half years imprisonment by a first court. The case concerned two people paid by the Teleorman county council, headed at the time by Dragnea, who were actually employed on PSD business. The messages that circulated online stressed that he “stole from poor children”; the two council employees in question worked for the child protection agency.
- In addition, anti-PSD messages, often reading what could roughly be translated as “F*** PSD”, have started to be displayed in the most unusual places, such as on car number plates and in fields of grain.
Say it with grain
One image that went viral on the internet was a photo taken from above which displayed the “F*** PSD” message on a field in Cluj county, northwest Romania. The message written in huge letters was 60 metres long and three metres wide, according to local media. The farmer used a GPS and a tractor to write the message which could be seen from planes flying above the area.
Another anti-PSD message attracted even more attention. A Romanian living abroad entered Romania driving a car registered in Sweden, bearing customised number plates again reading “F*** PSD”.
Razvan Stefanescu travelled through Romania and was stopped by local police several times, while pictures of his car with the visible number plates were posted on Facebook. Finally, on July 30, the police in Bucharest stopped the car owner, confiscated the number plates, suspended the driver’s license, leaving him without a permit to return home, and opened a criminal case against him, according to media reports.
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