For eight consecutive days, Romanians have taken to the streets in response to the newly appointed Government’s plan to relax the penal laws in favour of culprits. During the night of January 31st, 2017, days after the new Government was sworn into office, it secretly passed an emergency decree, aiming to pardon certain breaches of law, as well as amendments of the Penal Code and Penal Procedure Code of Romania, specifically related to the way power is being handled. Impromptu rallies erupted the same night in Bucharest where approximately 25,000 people gathered in Victory Square in front of the Government building, as well as in other major cities in Romania. The rallies mounted the next day to an estimated 300,000 plus people throughout the country, marking the largest rally since the fall of communism in 1989.
Following reactions from the European Union, European and international politicians, foreign embassies (such as Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Netherlands, the United States), the American Chamber of Commerce, Romanian judicial institutions, and street demonstrators, on February 5th, the Government adopted a new ordinance repealing the original one. However, the Government communicated its intention to pass the majority of the content from the original ordinance in a new bill through the Parliament, where the majority is represented by PSD – ALDE, the party coalition which named the Prime Minister and the ministers presently in power.
The Government’s way of handling the situation led the demonstrators to question the Prime Minister’s and Minister of Justice’s determination to meet the people’s demands and the finality of the matter. These developments resulted in further rallies on February 5th, when around 600,000 people took again to the streets throughout the country and in major cities around the world, such as London, Paris, Amsterdam, Madrid, Seattle, Copenhagen, Stockholm, etc, making it the largest demonstration in the history of the country. A noteworthy event during the rally on February 5th was when the 250,000 plus people who were gathered in Victory Square lit up their mobile phone flashlights and pointed them towards the sky while singing the national anthem aiming to send a message of optimism, solidarity, unity and hope for justice to prevail.
Overall the demonstrations appeared to be peaceful, dominated by energetic individuals showcasing creative and witty slogans. Remarkably, people took to the streets even in smaller cities, dominated by supporters of the Social-Democrat Party, PSD, such as Alexandria, Slobozia, Urziceni, Vaslui, etc. The level of organisation and communication between participants, done mostly through activist groups via social media, seems to demonstrate a higher standard of involvement and interest in civic activism. Romania has seen several waves of protests since 2012 including a powerful rally in 2013 to save the village of Rosia Montana from a gold mining project and a series of protests in 2015 following the Colectiv nightclub fire. The sophistication of the 2017 rallies may prove how Romanians’ attitude towards politics has evolved, transforming them from spectators to democracy to active participants.
While the Romanian people continue to wait for a resolution to the political situation in the country, their rallies seem to breed solidarity and heighten civic virtue and may become another stepping stone on the path towards creating a new social movement, going beyond politics, defining and unifying the nation.
These rallies may be an example of the grassroots coming together to stand up to the central government and to remind politicians they are being watched carefully and in a real democracy the power is in the hands of the people who have the potential to protect their rights and values by standing together. Romania may also motivate other countries and become a model of civil solidarity at a regional, European and international level by transmitting a message of optimism and also a signal to politicians to place the interest of the people at the core of their political agenda.
How may other countries follow Romania’s example to stand up for justice?