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A Year After August 10 – August 10 in Bucharest

A year after last year’s August 10 protest, people gathered in Victory Square again to demand a conclusion for the ongoing investigation and punishment for those responsible for the gendarmes’ intervention, and of course also to voice their current grievances, including those stemming from the handling of Alexandra’s case and the ensuing investigation. A small shrine, with pictures of the murdered girls, those killed in the Colectiv fire, and the protester who died after last year’s August 10 protest, albeit apparently due to a preexisting condition, was placed in the Square, for those who wanted to bring candles and flowers. In addition, with Romanians living abroad again being part of the focus, a group also aimed to spread information about the new facilities for those meaning to vote abroad and the requirements to make use of them. And there was a small march as well, with people starting to gather in front of the Ministry of Internal Affairs around 6 PM and leaving around 7 PM, including the Directorate for Investigating Organized Crime and Terrorism on their route and joining the others in Victory Square at 7:35 PM.

Various groups, putting forward various lists of demands, tried to claim that they were the organizers and one actually did so formally, signing a protocol with the authorities, which protocol apparently had the hours listed as 5 PM to 10:15 PM. However, the regulars from Victory Square, along with a few others, started arriving in the morning, and perhaps the best known out of those regulars also ended up in a conflict with the authorities due to bringing a platform without an authorization, ending up with a fine and his driver’s license suspended for 30 days as a result. Those who had signed the protocol set up a stage, on which they invited people to speak after the “official” start of the protest, but many objected to it and it wasn’t used for that purpose for too long, eventually ending up as a place for photographers before being cleared away.
Back to that protocol, it mentioned an expected turnout of 250000, with the authorities also stating that they will place 100 portable toilets and offer bottles of water. And there were some portable toilets in the area, though far less than 100, and some water was distributed in at least one spot. The turnout was much lower than that awfully optimistic estimate though, and it would appear that the expectations I had before the protest were proven correct, the reports I see mentioning a peak of about 25000 participants, though I must admit that I thought there had been at least twice as many while I was there, probably due to the fact that the entire area was closed for traffic and people were spread out, and also wandering around a fair bit. Mostly because of the heat, the numbers increased quite slowly at first, and there weren’t many even at 6:10 PM, when I got there, and most of those who had already arrived were gathered in the shade, not in the actual Square, but small numbers were still arriving even after 9:30 PM, when I left, though many started leaving after the “traditional” moment with the lights, at 9 PM, and some of those who had arrived earlier had left even before that time. So the total was higher than that peak, but highly doubt it was anywhere near twice that number.

On the other hand, while they stayed away from any claim of organizing the protest or putting forward lists of demands specifically associated with it, opposition political parties also had a presence, mainly gathering signatures for the presidential elections. USR-PLUS were by far the most visible, with people wearing their t-shirts and gathering signatures in various parts of the area, and the leaders also stated that they will attend, though I didn’t personally spot those at the very top. In contrast, PNL, who had chosen the day to start gathering signatures, stated that they will stay at University Square specifically in order to avoid any complaints that they’re trying to take over the protest, but Rares Bogdan was there, at least for a while. Demos were also there, but with a very discrete presence, those not already aware of them being unlikely to realize that they were representing a political party, though I at least spotted them and managed to sign for Claudiu Craciun. Also spotted the somewhat more obvious presence of another small party which is pretty much their opposite. And there might have been others as well, plus those gathering signatures to reduce the number of members of the Parliament to 300, according to the result of the 2009 referendum.

Another notable event was that Davide Martello played in the Square, moving to a few different spots before apparently deciding to stay in one, and I for one took a bit of a break from wandering around and taking pictures to listen to him for a few minutes in two places. According to the reports I see, he was the central point of the end of the evening, as he continued to play until at least around 11 PM, with more and more of those remaining being gathered around him as the time passed, past the protest’s end time as stated in that protocol.

There were some tense moments in front of the fences and the line of gendarmes in front of the Government starting a bit before 9 PM and likely peaking around 9:30 PM, but the gendarmes, not in riot gear this time around, didn’t retaliate to the shouts and chants or even to the fences being pushed back in some spots and things eventually calmed down as a result. Four people were taken away over the course of the day, but that happened at the filters set up by the gendarmes, who had stated that they will search those with larger bags or who otherwise seem suspicious, three of the four being found to have weapons or pyrotechnics and one refusing to submit to the search and cursing at the gendarmes as they tried. On the other hand, some people required medical attention, but merely because of the heat. There was no violence and no use of tear gas, with the gendarmes displaying a completely different behavior compared to a year ago, a behavior which I’d illustrate with a moment I witnessed after I left, as I reached the end of the area that was closed off to traffic just as a man who was apparently only then going to the protest furiously shouted at them to ask whether they were getting ready to “kill” protesters that night as well and whether they hadn’t had enough last year and they merely wished him a nice evening, very calmly.

But I want to end this post with the large banner which will be the main one I take away from this, and in fact with the whole “performance” around it. It was just at 9 PM, at the start of the “traditional” moment with the lights and with people gathered at the fence and things starting to get a little tense in some spots, when a group of people carrying that large banner in a way that struck me as making it seem that they also had coffins under it carefully pushed their way through that crowd, right at the very front, making sure that they’ll be seen. They went from one end to the other, eventually stopping where the crowd ended, on the street on the other side, to stretch out the banner properly. After a short moment, probably meant to give those who wanted a picture of the banner itself a chance to take one, some moved in front of it and staged a die-in. The message on the banner translates to “the social contract honored only for the privileged, inexistent social policies: the state’s dissolution emanates lethal gases”, being a much-needed leftist message making room for itself at such an event, and in such a notable manner, when the large majority of participants, at least for the past few years, infuriatingly support the right, or at least claim to do so.

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