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"Dragnea, Don’t Forget, We’re Waiting for Your Book Too" – January 25 to 31 in Bucharest

I’ll be picking up from where the previous report left off and say that the referendum became quite a laughing matter when the question was revealed, as apparently the President intends to ask whether the people support the fight against corruption, not something specific to the measures that sparked these protests. As a result, being obvious that it’ll just be a complete waste of public money and a way to add to election fatigue, therefore it couldn’t possibly have any real negative effects for them and may even reduce the public opposition they’ll face after it, PSD even threw aside any countermeasures and said they support it as well.

Now that I got that out of the way, let me get back to activists and protesters, who were keeping a close eye on the January 25 Government meeting, fearing that the measures will be adopted then even if they weren’t among the topics listed as being discussed. After all, they hadn’t been the week before either, but they didn’t try to sneak them through again, so there was no need for a quick reaction.
There was a flash mob announced in front of the Government the next morning, at 11 AM, but barely a few people showed up, as expected. However, January 26 was notable because the Minister of Justice announced that public consultations regarding the planned measures will take place at the Ministry on Monday, but that due to lack of space no more than 50 people will be able to take part, media access won’t be allowed and each person will have three minutes to state their opinion, conditions which obviously generated an outcry and a rejection of these consultations by those opposing the measures.
Over the following days, as official statements against the measures kept coming from various institutions and organizations, including those representing prison workers and even inmates, the Minister seemed to change his mind about the number, saying up to about 90 may somehow fit inside at once and there will be two rounds, one after the other, so the close to 200 who did register to participate will be able to do so. The other restrictions weren’t changed though, so people were called, including through an event created by the United We Save Community, to state their opposition in the street, gathering in front of the Ministry at the time of the consultation.
However, that was Monday from 9:30 AM, when it was obvious that, even despite the huge turnout at what by then had been two Sunday marches, barely a handful will show up. And I for one did try to have a look, being there right on time and wondering whether one other person was there for the same reason or I was the only one, so I wandered around for a while and returned at 9:45 AM, when I saw the situation largely unchanged, though a guy who was quite clearly there for the protest had a look as well and then walked away, so there may have been a few others like us. As I then went to do other things but walked past the area twice more, can say I saw five people at 11:15 AM and ten 20 minutes later, and they were just standing around and chatting.
Things were quite different inside though, and while cameras were not allowed, quite a number of people working for independent media sources were inside and they managed to resist the initial demand to turn in their phones as well, as the listed rules only mentioned cameras. So instead of no media coverage, there were quite a few live streams of the entire event and large numbers watched it or parts of it on-line. And a few known activists were inside after all, stating a firm opinion against the proposed measures, alongside representatives of some organizations and institutions, and also calling for the Minister’s resignation. Plenty of participants were in favor, however, which was hardly surprising, since we’re talking of people who’d directly benefit from the measures, posts and articles being quick to list what they were under investigation or had been convicted for.

But the major event was once again the Sunday march, which was quite a test, since a lower participation than a week before would have sent the message that PSD could simply wait this out, plus that having more people in the street when leading PNL members had announced their participation and even the President showed up would have added weight to the lies that it was just something organized by the opposition that the part of the media that supports PSD keeps repeating. And that was a serious reason for concern, since it hardly seemed likely that a protest bigger than any of those in 2013 would be followed by an even bigger one, especially considering the idiocy with the referendum.
Those concerns seemed founded when I reached the University Square fountain right on time, at 5 PM. Since the week before I had been 30 minutes late, I didn’t have a way to compare directly, but the sight that greeted me was of a small number of people scattered around the area, two gendarmes walking in front of me also commenting that there had been significantly more at that time the previous Sunday and it looked like it’ll be a weaker protest.
Well, it definitely wasn’t. People kept flooding in and spilling over wherever they could after the area filled, calls to take to the street because there was simply no more room for those who kept arriving came even before 6 PM, when it had been announced that the march was to start, and while it was hard to make comparisons at that point, it was obvious that this was at the very least going to also be massive. And as the march continued and the crowd stretched on and on, the head of the column reaching and moving on from points of interest while the rear still hadn’t left University Square, it became increasingly clear just how massive. After the return to University Square, since the route that included this had overwhelmingly won against the proposal to go from the Ministry of Justice to the Goverment on Victoriei in the vote posted the evening before on the event page, I tried to wait for the entire column to walk past me again, but after 25 minutes and with no end in sight I gave up, so I can’t directly say how long it took, but I did see reports saying it took about 40 minutes this time.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. To present a timeline, I’ll say the gendarmes cleared the way and people spilled into the street at 6 PM, then after a bit of confusion, many initially facing the other way, as if the march would be straight to the Government once again, less than 15 minutes later we got moving. Some five minutes before 7 PM, the head of the column reached Constitution Square, where the Parliament is, and there I actually saw gendarmes tell those holding the large banner to spread out more now that there was room, before making way so those with cameras could finally get the shots they had been trying to get since the start. Then, being nearby, the Ministry of Justice was reached at 7 PM and that’s where the first and only stop before the end was, the crowd starting to move again after little more than five minutes, when I also heard a gendarme tell those already there that there are many more behind who want a chance to send their wishes too. University Square was reached again at 7:40 PM, and the head of the column reached the Government a little before 8:25 PM. Or maybe closer to 8:20 PM, according to some reports, since I hadn’t quite managed to catch up after those 25 minutes despite running wherever I could find room and switching between the street and the sidewalk plenty of times in order to do so.
The National Audiovisual Council (CNA) and the Ombudsman were also planned points of interest, protesters demanding a reaction from the CNA regarding the lies the TV stations loyal to PSD keep spewing and at least in theory a challenge from the Ombudsman against these proposals. Since he’s so deep in debt his only hope is to stay firmly on the good side of those in power and hope they pull the strings he needs in return and therefore only acts when those need something from him and not when the rest of the people do, however, the actual demand was just his resignation. But since the CNA is just before Constitution Square and on the left side while the route turned right after reaching the Square, people just passed by, and to be honest I don’t even know whether we did pass by the Ombudsman, since that required a couple more turns and I didn’t notice them, nor the area itself. Either way, definitely no stop in either location, but there were plenty of signs and slogans related to these two institutions.
And speaking of signs and slogans, while there once again were none supporting the opposition, the President or the former Government, there were still many firmly against PSD and its president Liviu Dragnea despite repeated calls posted by known activists before the march to leave this fight against them aside and focus on the matter at hand, just to give them and the media that supports them less reason to claim it’s all something organized by the opposition and occult interest groups that want to dismiss the result of last month’s elections. And I do agree with that call, and even more so with the motivation behind it, despite the fact that I am a very firm opponent of PSD and would never want them to have any sort of power or authority, but a crowd that size and made up of people who simply took to the streets of their own free will couldn’t be led one way or another even if there would have been serious attempts to do so. And anyway, I can’t say there were such attempts this time either.
Getting back to the end of the march, in Victory Square, once again those at the head of the column didn’t advance enough, so those in the Square itself had room to move around, quite a lot for those not right against the cordon of gendarmes, while many people had no way to even reach it. But, either way, stating again that it was a truly massive protest, estimates usually ranging between “over 40000” and 50000, though I also saw 35000 or 60000, plus of course merely 15000 or even still just 10000 at the TV stations loyal to PSD, which are still sadly the most watched. 50000 is the most common number though, also quoted in international media and remaining so even now after the initial euphoria passed away. Which makes sense, since it’s apparently based on Police estimates as well.
But now I find myself needing to end this quickly, so let me just add that I wandered around the Square for almost an hour, taking more pictures before eventually walking away at 9:20 PM, by which time the crowd was thinning visibly. The metro couldn’t handle the numbers though, so police officers were blocking the entrances to the station and allowing people inside in groups, when those inside were telling them there was room for more. Of course, there were long queues at the turnstiles as well, but everything was calm and orderly, as was the entire protest itself.

As I said above, now I need to end this quickly because things just changed and the Government met this evening, supposedly only to approve this year’s budget, only a few dozen people reacting quickly and showing up there as a small spontaneous protest, just in case… Yet after other members left, the Minister of Justice stated, in a press conference during which he was smug and defiant and refused to answer many questions, that the changes to the Criminal Code were adopted and they even add something new, namely that passing laws or regulations may not be grounds for accusing someone of abuse of power or favoring criminals, so they know exactly what they’re doing and very specifically want to make sure they won’t answer for it in courts. During the night, when the decision was published, it was revealed that it’ll come into effect in ten days and not immediately, but there’s still plenty of confusion, so I’m just adding this here as a later edit and there may be more at some other time.
They did this in secret and at night! They announced it at 10 PM or so and after the others even fled the building! People are outraged, calls to take to the streets now are coming from all directions, many activists are on their way, though I initially saw little reason to waste energy tonight after the deed was already done. Tomorrow we need to be there in overwhelming, crushing numbers and see what may still be done. Though, of course, this Government was formed to be sacrificed from the start, so taking them down may well be part of the plan. And a too outraged reaction, one that will lead to violence, will definitely play right into their hands, so that needs to be avoided.

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