By Brian Kulpan
In a show of public outcry not seen since the fall of the communism in 1989, citizens in the hundreds of thousands braved sub-freezing conditions to voice their discontent in the streets of Bucharest and over 50 urban centers across Romania.
The source of the outrage stemmed from the passage of a controversial emergency ordinance posed to grant amnesty to those serving jail terms less than five years. The ordinance reduces sentences by half for inmates with children, women who were pregnant, those over the age of 60, and decriminalizes abuse in office by officials, provided the funds involved amounted to less than 200,000 lei (48,000 dollars).
After the order was passed in secret on January 31st, protestors flocked to Piata-Victoriei, or Victory Square, in the capital for the better part of two weeks in a move set to defy the acts of the Social Democrats’ government.
The announcement of this emergency decree has raised considerable alarm across Romania and a number of governments throughout the West. Although the country has claimed European Union membership for the past ten years, Romania has fallen well short of a smooth transition.
Of the 28-member states, Romania has one of Europe’s highest corruption rates. Ranked fourth worst for graft by Transparency International, Romania remains the EU’s second poorest country, despite receiving substantial development funds.
In a statement issued to The Guardian, Jean-Claude Junker, head of the European Commission expressed his apprehension over the protests, saying “The fight against corruption needs to be advanced, not undone. We are following the latest developments in Romania with great concern.”
In the aftermath of the protests, the standing government was able to survive a vote of no-confidence initiated by opposition parties in parliament. Following this outcome, Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu accepted the resignation of Florin Iordache, Romania’s justice minister. This move did little to quell the resentment of the thousands who continued to march in the streets.
Many citizens chanted incessantly for the resignation of the Prime Minister, as well as the presidents of the Chamber of Deputies and Senate, among many other powerful political officials in the country.
Over the past few years, Romania’s fight against corruption has seen hundreds of officials imprisoned for corruption related cases. According to Bloomberg, “prosecutors are currently working on more than 2,000 abuse-of-office cases.”
This month’s protests stemmed from multiple factors that continued to stoke public dissent. Indicating a long-term shift in political sentiment. In a statement made for the New York Times, “The success of the protests, resulting in the withdrawal of the ordinance, has boosted the most active of the protesters in their commitment to a more sustained and permanent kind of organization,” said Sergiu Miscoiu, a professor of political science at Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj.