Half a year after the previous one, it’s definitely time for another protest report. Not that there haven’t been events worth mentioning during this time as well, there have been a few notable ones even earlier this month, including the fact that the Ministry of Culture submitted the documents to nominate Rosia Montana for inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage List on January 4, on the last day before handing over power to the new Government and a day after the petition asking the Prime Minister to change his mind and sign those documents was formally submitted. Not sure whether that petition had any effect, since in the end this happened because “the Minister of Culture, Corina Suteu, assumed responsibility for the submission, after informing and consulting with Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos, and with support from the Ministry of External Affairs” and not because the Prime Minister changed his mind about leaving the decision for his successor, and I also don’t know whether the lack of the Prime Minister’s signature will have a negative impact during the review, but after all these years, it finally happened.
However, this post is about the protests taking place over the past week, and more specifically about those on January 18 and 22, since that’s when the major ones were in Bucharest. The reason is that, so soon after taking office, this new Government means to adopt emergency measures, so without passing them through the Parliament, in order to pardon inmates sentenced to up to five years in prison if not guilty of a long list of offenses considered too serious and if they cover the losses caused within a year of release, halve the sentences of those over 60, pregnant women and those with children under five with no exceptions or conditions, so regardless of the crime they’re convicted for and without requiring them to cover the losses caused, make abuse of power no longer a criminal offense unless the losses caused exceed 200000 RON (about €44500 or $47750) and also restrict the definition of the term, limit the protections for informers who took part in a crime to six months after it was committed, and make some changes to the definition of conflict of interests as well.
While the reasoning is supposedly prison overcrowding and harmonizing legislation, quite a number of politicians will benefit from these changes, a list I saw today containing no less than 65, plus various businessmen and other known figures. Notably, it will benefit PSD president Liviu Dragnea, who is currently not allowed to be Prime Minister or hold other important positions due to serving a suspended sentence, the text actually being specifically tailored to apply to him as well by having the article he was convicted under listed under exceptions but the specific paragraph that applies to him excluded, and also having this decision supposedly aimed at reducing prison overcrowding apply to those serving suspended sentences as well, which is his situation. And it will also benefit media magnate and former president of PC Dan Voiculescu, who due to his age will be among those released without having to pay for the huge losses caused.
These decisions were supposed to be adopted by the Government on January 18, without this having been announced. However, sources leaked the fact to the media the day before, prompting immediate but vague calls for protests, a specific event for Bucharest, calling people to gather at the University Square fountain from 6 PM on January 18, starting being shared late in the evening but not even then on the main pages or groups or by many of the known activists. That meant that, when I checked that morning before going to the dentist, I knew the President, alerted of this, had unexpectedly showed up to preside the Government meeting, inviting the media back inside when they were otherwise being kicked out, making these decisions public, including the fact that they had been dated for that day, so they were definitely supposed to be approved then despite the fact that the Prime Minister was trying to say otherwise, and managing to delay them for a week. However, I didn’t know anything about any specific plans for a protest, and since I was out all day I only learned what actually took place after getting back, late in the evening.
As such, I didn’t attend and only have a few posts and articles to go on, but the fact that such a quick reaction gathered thousands and led to a march was definitely a sign of things to come. Events on such short notice tend to only gather a handful of people, yet in this case, if I’m to take the estimates of some activists who participated, there were some 3000 in the end, when reaching the Government, and some 2000 shortly before 7:30 PM, when they took to the street. A part of the media that opposes PSD estimated even up to 7000 and even international media mentions several thousand, but of course those who support PSD, who sadly also have by far the highest ratings, provided estimates as low as a few hundred, and of course said they were all paid, opposition party members and so on. Either way, the gendarmes didn’t make much of an attempt to prevent people from taking to the street and then caused no problems later either, allowing the march to reach its destination and then waiting for people to clear out on their own, which I see eventually happened after 9:30 PM.
What followed were of course various statements and calls for action, calls to submit comments against the proposals now that the Government has put them up for public comments for a week, calls for the resignation of the Minister of Justice, calls for the President and the opposition to use any means they have to block these measures, announcements from USR that they will file a simple motion against the Minister of Justice and from PNL that they will attempt to call for a vote of no confidence against the Government. There were also discussions over the fact that some USR members attended the protests, whether in Bucharest or in other cities, and announced they will do so again, stating that they are there as simple citizens and will not give interviews to the press, and many known activists keep demanding complete separation between politicians and activists and therefore request that even those who regularly took part in such events before becoming politicians stay away.
And then came Sunday, January 22, when people were called to gather at the University Square fountain from 5 PM, the event being widely promoted. After a poll posted earlier on the event page had resulted in the Government leading the list of destinations for the march by a large margin, the message posted initially stated the protesters should start marching in that direction at 6:30 PM, though that time was changed to 6 PM in another message, posted shortly before the protest was to start. No other destinations were initially listed, but it was said that they will be decided on the spot, if sufficiently large numbers will want to continue protesting somewhere else after a sufficient amount of time spent in Victory Square.
Unusually for me, I arrived quite late this time, at close to 5:30 PM, and found quite a large number of people around the fountain already. And the numbers continued to grow quickly, soon enough the area being completely filled, people spilling over wherever they could still find any room and also crowding on the other side of the road, in front of the Theater. Even though Wednesday’s numbers, considering the short notice, should have been a clear enough indication, the scale of the protest, already seeming to be similar to if not even above the biggest few from 2013, was initially surprising, and not just for me.
One problem was that, on top of members of USR, leading PNL members had also announced that they’ll participate, which was certain to be used by the media supporting PSD to paint the entire event as one organized by the opposition in order to reject the result of the elections and take over power and nothing else. But among so many thousands, I’d say they simply got lost, and I definitely didn’t spot anyone I recognized from any party other than USR, and only a couple from there as well. Then again, I only saw a few people I recognized in general, and none of the best known activists among them, though they pretty much all attended. According to some posts, however, including their own, at least a few of the most notable of them covered their faces and tried to keep as out of sight as possible, bothered by the presence of politicians and the fact that the other protesters weren’t attacking both sides equally and not wanting to be visibly associated with what was certain to be presented by the media as a purely political event.
What definitely ensured that was the fact that the President suddenly showed up around the time people started marching, a few minutes after taking to the street, which happened around 6:15 PM. He didn’t stay long and some agreed with his presence there, but I’m among those angered by it, alongside pretty much all known activists. Still, though I was far from the head of the column, and probably closer to the back of it, he appeared some distance behind me and I just heard a couple of people mention it as word was passed around, but while I later learned that a group formed around him and cheered, likely led by some brought there just for that reason, I didn’t see anyone turn back when the news carried over and I did not personally hear as much as a single slogan or chant supporting him, PNL or even USR.
Now that may not mean much if I’d have stayed more or less in one area of the crowd, considering the numbers, but I’m saying it after making my way to the head of the column, waiting for a good 25 minutes as they walked past me before I could see the end, then making my way back through as far as I could before reaching Victory Square, which was close to 7:30 PM for me but I see around 7:20 PM for the first ones, wandering around while there, finding my way to the head of the column yet again after most left for PSD’s headquarters around 8:15 PM, stopping again to wait as part of them walked past me on the way, going back forward as fast as I could so I got to that destination not long after the first ones did, around 8:30 PM, then going from one side of the road to the other and from one end of the occupied area to the other while there. So I think I know what was shouted pretty well.
What I don’t know is what happened in front of the headquarters of PSD’s allies ALDE, since I only later learned that a part of the crowd had left to go there around 9 PM, reaching it some ten minutes later before returning to PSD’s headquarters around 9:30 PM and then scattering. I guess that’s because I was around the back of the crowd when those calls were made around the front of it, trying to get a few last pictures as the numbers were dropping and I could spot a few interesting signs I had missed until then, before walking away around 9:15 PM. And there is also the fact that a number of people probably stayed in Victory Square for a while after the rest left for PSD’s headquarters and then probably scattered directly.
One more thing I can definitely say, however, is that there was no “command center” trying to lead the chants. And that doesn’t only mean that nobody managed it, which would have been quite normal considering both the numbers and the fact that best known activists were specifically trying not to stand out, but that I didn’t even really see notable attempts, except perhaps one in front of the Government by someone who tends to try to do this either when the best known activists don’t or, at times, going against them. Besides that, I just saw a few more loudspeakers and they weren’t really used in that manner, so it really was a matter of a large crowd of people reacting to something they perceived as wrong and anybody with an idea and some courage shouting something and the slogan either dying along with their voice or carrying as far as enough others thought it was good enough, until they got tired of it or they heard something they liked more at that particular moment.
And yes, the post’s title is perhaps the most memorable such slogan, referencing the fact that many politicians, businessmen and other important figures who ended up behind bars had their sentences significantly reduced after supposedly publishing books or scientific papers despite them usually having no real purpose or scientific value and the numbers and speed at which they were supposedly written making it clear they couldn’t have possibly written them themselves. “From the White House to the White Gate” was another good one though, referencing the fact that Liviu Dragnea had attended Trump’s inauguration and White Gate is the the prison most such important individuals end up in if convicted, the conditions there supposedly being better than in others.
And I guess I should finally end this now, though I’m pretty sure I missed even things I meant to include at some point, plus those I’m not even aware of yet. It was a huge protest, and I found two pictures which should give a good enough idea. Once again have to say it was similar to if not bigger than the biggest few from 2013, most estimates seeming to have settled around 30000 participants, though of course the media that supports PSD stopped counting around 10000 while also again repeating time and time again that supposedly all were paid, this time even those who brought dogs having supposedly received money for each dog, and echoing Liviu Dragnea’s statements that this is an attempted coup orchestrated by parts of secret services, obviously George Soros, who according to them organizes and finances pretty much everything against them and their interests, and others who mean to overturn the will of the people expressed through last month’s elections and hand Romania over to occult interest groups. Did see low estimates even in international media though, such as 15000, but I can definitely say there were well over 20000 people there, past which level I couldn’t estimate more accurately back in 2013 and I can’t now either, so I tend to agree with the 30000 mentioned by most others now.
As for yesterday and today, there were various discussions and positions taken by activists, some more reasonable, a few even welcoming the involvement of politicians in the protests, most rejecting it, some vehemently and harshly accusing both the politicians who show up instead of sticking strictly to the tools offered by their positions if they wish to help, extending this even to those who were activists before and who in their view should completely break away from that past, and all other protesters for not kicking politicians out of protests and not attacking both those in power and the opposition. On the other hand, Demos also finally released a formal statement on the matter, doubled by a rather uncharacteristically harsh and blunt attack against PSD posted by Claudiu, who’s the founder of this project, which currently isn’t yet formally registered as a party but eventually aims to be and which includes a pretty long list of known activists who had until recently rejected the idea of getting directly involved in politics but finally, after being disappointed by the direction taken by USR as well, realized that if they won’t create a progressive and leftist alternative here, nobody will.
Also, while some voices called for daily protests, the person who created the events for January 18 and 22 correctly stated that this would just waste the energy and reduce participation, so the next event was created again for Sunday, though if the Government will approve these measures tomorrow, as it may well do, everybody should obviously be ready to react immediately. However, somebody created another event for this evening, calling people to the University Square fountain from 5 PM and, while most ignored it, I saw a couple of reports estimating about 150 people there. Obviously not enough for any march or anything else, and likely harming the cause due to such low numbers so soon after such a massive event.
The most notable development these days, however, is the fact that the President announced yesterday that he will call for a referendum on these matters, and today he supposedly initiated the procedure in order to do so, though the President of the Senate stated that the documents were not received because today was a national holiday and nobody was there. USR quickly released a statement supporting the initiative and there are various other voices who think it’s a good idea, but I’m again in agreement with the vast majority of known activists who see it as a terrible move and a huge threat that pretty much throws away anything this movement may have obtained and may well clear the way for PSD to do pretty much whatever they want for the next few years.
Without such an initiative, either PSD will back off due to public pressure and they’ll realize they can’t quite get away with everything they thought they could or they won’t and, while it’s true that the measures they wish to implement will have immediate effects impossible to reverse, they’ll face an immense backlash because of it and that’s likely to solidify a movement which may well prevent much worse from being done by them in the near future. With it, regardless of the outcome, a matter of fairness, justice, the rule of law and right and wrong high-level decisions is turned into pure populism, and considering the recent election results and PSD’s voting and manipulation apparatus the outcome is actually quite likely to be that most people will approve of their plans, which will make not only this challenge but also any future opposition easy to dismiss. In addition, this already gave them the opportunity to once again bring up the referendum to change the Constitution to clearly specify that marriage can only be between one man and one woman, and the delay and the impression that somebody else, in this case the President, is handling this matter while in fact the outcome will depend strictly on how well regular people will mobilize is likely to dissipate energy and significantly reduce just that mobilization that’s so necessary.