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Housing, Colectiv, Air and Forests – October 27 to November 3 in Bucharest

It was a busy period here, with four protests, or three protests and one commemoration with an element of protest, in eight days. I don’t have much to write about the first one though, since I didn’t personally attend it and the media didn’t seem interested, so I didn’t find much information, though it was strongly supported by Demos and the leftist activists I know, who tended to also participate. It took place on October 27 and dealt with housing, the demands including increasing the stock of social housing by any means available to the state, easing access to such housing for those in need, stopping forced evictions without adequate relocation and implementing rent control, and from what I could find, it seemed to actually have more participants than the march for clean air. Not many more, but I counted at least 70 in what I saw, probably 75 or so, and there might have been at least a few more that weren’t visible. About the times, all I know is that the event was listed as taking place between 1 PM and 4 PM, and it would appear that there was quite a bit of time spent giving speeches at the starting location, which was the so-called Coltea Park, at University Square. When the march to Izvor Park, more specifically to that entrance that’s across the road from the entrance to the Chamber of Deputies, eventually started, the participants had to stay on the sidewalk.

Next came the commemoration of the Colectiv club fire, which I already covered from a personal point of view, but I will stress again that it took place on the first of a few cold days, and while it was raining as well, albeit not heavily. So the conditions were something of an issue, and that was probably why there were no more torches or large candles this time around, and possibly also had something to do with the lack of signs, other than the large banners, but it didn’t seem to harm the attendance that much, as people were asked to start gathering at the usual spot in Unirii Park from 6:30 PM and I found quite a crowd already there when I arrived, at 7 PM. Many news crews were reporting live at that time, of course, and the event obviously attracted much media attention, probably even more than it would have normally done, considering the just over 20 minutes of footage filmed during the initial rescue operation which had just been leaked, after having been kept secret until then.
People got moving around 7:25 PM, taking to the street, the march having been supposed to start at 7:30 PM. With the estimates tending to just mention “hundreds” at the start of the march, with a maximum of 1500, I guess it’d have been at the limit of being allowed on the street by the gendarmes if it’d have been a regular protest, but since it was primarily a commemoration, there was of course no question about that and traffic was scheduled to be stopped as needed for the march to take place. Either way, Bucur Square was reached at 7:50 PM, most estimates mentioning about 1500 people gathered there in the end, with a maximum of 3000. Unlike other years, the weather didn’t allow much to happen, the few large banners, one of them demanding the resignation of Raed Arafat over his handling of the situation and his reaction to the leaked footage, being fixed in places where they could be seen, and otherwise people lighting candles and leaving flowers and then walking away relatively quickly, the numbers having already dropped significantly by the time I took the last pictures and left as well, at 8:15 PM. Did see reports mentioning another large banner being brought and displayed minutes after I left, but it wasn’t a new one, made for this year’s commemoration.

On November 2 there was another march for clean air, following the one that took place in spring, with the route again being from the National Library to the Ministry of Environment. Organizers were once again NGOs I don’t otherwise know, but this time around the march was also intended to mark the fact that they had submitted a set of proposals, along with what I gathered was detailed documentation, to improve air quality and monitoring. The organizers again provided vests and signs, and masks as well, so the march was visible, at least inasmuch as a march taking place on the sidewalk can be, but it was, also once again, almost completely silent, a few attempts to lead some chants and shouts dying out quite quickly. It was bad enough that I was considering trying to lead some shouting myself a couple of times, but obviously didn’t. But at least this time around I have a handful of pictures.
People were asked to gather from 11 AM and, unlike last time, the weather wasn’t an excuse for the low numbers anymore. The early hour most likely still was, however, as was the fact that it wasn’t promoted by the activists I know of anymore either. The media was somewhat more interested, on the other hand, the event definitely featuring in more reports than the housing march, even though there were fewer participants, only about 60… Including one person from the Romanian Ecologist Party (PER), wearing a vest with the party logo, which didn’t sit well with plenty. There had been two of them, making a point of being very visible, but after being challenged by some other participants, the man got in the car and left at the start of the march, yet the woman remained, calmly explaining their stance and answering questions whenever needed. But to get back to the number of participants, whether there would have been a few more if they’d have waited a while longer to actually start the march, I don’t know, but some, apparently including the gendarmes, were pushing for an earlier start, and while the organizers appeared to have compromised on 11:45 AM, in the end the march started at 11:35 AM, one woman who seemed particularly bossy and a few others managing to rush things and leave the other organizers little choice. So the Ministry was reached at 12:15 PM, people only staying there for a little while, as it wasn’t even 12:30 PM when the end was called. The organizers only asked for the signs back, again stressing that we should keep the vests, and the masks as well, and this time I actually did so.

The last event taking place during this period was also the biggest, estimates mentioning about 4000 people attending the March for Forests on November 3, which seems fair, since I was thinking that there were some 3000 at the start of the march. The killed forest rangers likely had much to do with that, but while some who chose to only remember the largest environmental protests expressed disappointment, expecting many more, those who know something about how these things work, including the organizers, were in fact pleasantly surprised. Actually, I reached the gathering spot, which was the University Square fountain area, at 5:45 PM and there were already hundreds of people, even though the event had asked people to gather starting at 6 PM, yet even then those from Greenpeace Romania who were talking to the gendarmes were saying that they had listed 1000 in the protocol and they weren’t even sure about that, considering how few said that they’ll attend the event, so they were attempting to negotiate for the march to at least be allowed on the street where the sidewalk will be particularly narrow or blocked, not all the way. But, of course, the numbers changed things, and the gendarmes allowed us on the street without problems when the call was made to start the march, at 7:05 PM.
Getting back a bit, many signs and banners had been brought, the organizers coming with many of the banners, as well as with some people dressed in animal costumes, and also handing people badges. However, the banners were mainly displayed behind the fountain while people were still gathering, not in front of it, lights being set up in that area, so it’ll be easy to take pictures, which I obviously did as well. And it was that fact that caused something of a problem at 6:40 PM, when speeches started in front of the fountain while those behind it started shouting and chanting, and I actually made my way back there to tell the girl with the loudspeaker that she was breaking things up. She said it didn’t carry all the way to the front, but I said that it did and she actually stopped after a bit, even though I hurried away from her as soon as I said that, this having already been just about too much for me, so I wasn’t even sure that she had heard that last part as well.
Once the march started, banners were arranged quite well, most being on the side, towards the other half of the road, since we only walked on one side, and people were leaving some space in front of the few banners that were held inside the crowd as well. There was one huge banner that was something of a problem, and I for one couldn’t even see it during the march, being far too long for a picture or to even see at once, so I put off even trying to look at it until, at one point when the march had paused so those falling behind would catch up and the banners would be displayed more clearly again, it was gathered up again, leaving me to only find out what that was about when I saw a post after getting back. On the other hand, Greenpeace did a good job with their large one, hanging it up both at the start, behind the fountain, and at the end, in front of the Ministry of Waters and Forests, and in fact managing to already have it up in that new location when the march reached it, at exactly 8 PM. And there was another place where something was set up, the march at one point reaching a spot where the road was briefly cordoned off as a “forest crime scene”.
Quite a large group did keep going after the Ministry was reached, the intention at first appearing to be to make room for everyone in that area, but when they got too far and didn’t give signs of stopping an organizer ran after them and managed to get them to turn back, and eventually everyone gathered in front of the Ministry, where there were shouts, chants and speeches, while a number of messages were projected on a nearby building. The event was listed as ending at 10 PM, but there was little to do for that long, so instead of trying to drag it out the organizers made the call to end it at 8:40 PM, the large majority of people clearing the area within minutes. However, a small number did stay behind for some more shouting and chanting in front of the large banner, and for a little while I was among them, leaving at 8:50 PM and still hearing the handful that were left as I was walking away.
Overall, I consider it an event that turned out much better than expected, in terms of turnout as well as when it comes to how it was organized, and how the various NGOs worked together, and it was also nice to see many of the “old guard” there again, though that made the absence of those who were missing stand out even more. The destination ended up being a bit unfortunate, as the new government, which was voted in the next day, no longer includes a Ministry of Waters and Forests, having been incorporated into the Ministry of Environment, but that is in fact as it should be and the march had been planned for some time, when the situation was different. Now it will remain to be seen what the effects will be and how well the new Minister of Environment and all other relevant decision makers will understand the message we delivered that evening, what measures will be taken to protect the forests and their protectors and how soon.

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