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Lack of Reaction, Health Care and Air Pollution – February 4 and 14 in Bucharest

There were various other reactions, comments and on-line actions during this period, as well as in the days preceding the protest at the Ministry of Health, but I’ll just focus on the protests on February 4 and 14, though I only attended the latter. Still, I should at least briefly mention that, apparently on January 30, Declic received what was marked as a final cease and desist notice from FSC, being told they’ll be sued unless they stop using an “automated script” to flood their inbox, after their campaign asking members to send them messages asking for an update about the status of HS Timber, formerly Holzindustrie Schweighofer. They revealed this after a week, asking members how to respond, and then asked for messages to be posted or sent to prove that the senders were real people and not scripts. As a result of that, there was another reply from FSC, pointing to the relevant page and confirming that Holzindustrie Schweighofer remains disassociated, but also stating that the messages received had all been from Declic’s “noreply” address, not the individual e-mail addresses of the senders, which does make their reaction entirely reasonable, and I wonder whether there had been some bug or flaw in Declic’s system.

Now that I mentioned that, I can’t fail to also mention another far more important thing that happened during this period, which is the fact that the Government passed no less than 25 emergency ordinances on February 4, making the announcements after midnight, when the marathon session ended. So it was another case of “at night, like thieves” and the “old guard” reacted to it, but it’s not just that there was a lack of a mass reaction, but in fact those complaining were attacked by many, including plenty of the newer activists. There was an article explaining why, stating that the critical mass driving the large protests taking place in recent years was made up of the urban middle class, or those who wrongly think they are or even simply aspire to be in it, and those value brutal neoliberalism, individualism, making it supposedly on your own in a society ruled by the free market. Some even openly support PNL, and many support USR, which is now clearly even worse from those points of view, and they firmly oppose not just PSD, but what they believe it stands for, anyone less fortunate, less able to make it under those circumstances, older, less formally educated, with health problems, working for or receiving support from the state, and anyone who’s poorer in general, as that’s seen to be the individual’s fault. Not that PSD actually stands for those, of course, but that critical mass exists only when it comes to attacking PSD, not reacting when their opponents do the same things they lashed out against them for, and also actually pushing back against any efforts to support those categories of people, so the “old guard” and any actual leftists once again find themselves alone.

On the evening of February 4, starting at 6 PM, so actually during that marathon session mentioned above, a protest took place at the Ministry of Health. I meant to attend, but eventually didn’t, and saw that only about 50 or 60 people were present, though the event was at least mentioned by a few news sources. The reason for the protest was one of those ordinances being discussed, and approved, allowing private clinics the same access to funding as state hospitals in pretty much every way. There was a risk that said private clinics will be able to also charge their patients additional amounts, on top of the amount received from the state, but that element was eliminated for the moment, though as of next year they’ll be able to do so for anything that they also receive state funding for, so PNL only pushed the measure back until after the elections.
This obviously creates a competition between state and private clinics for funds that are already vastly insufficient, and also encourages the many doctors that practice in both to direct patients to the private clinic, causing the state hospitals, which are the only ones where health services can even in theory be guaranteed for all, to be even more starved of resources, and likely even personnel, as more are likely to decide to just work for the private clinics as a result, being able to argue that patients have the same access to the services there as well. But, of course, nothing is guaranteed if it’s offered by the private sector, and as of next year those services will almost certainly carry additional charges, so what’s presented as a measure supposedly meant to give people freedom of choice and improve conditions due to the competition will obviously in fact lead to the large majority, those who won’t be able to afford those charges, being forced to rely on state hospitals that will be even more underfunded and understaffed.

Moving on to yesterday, a protest demanding measures to be taken against air pollution took place. There was something else taking place earlier as well, the vote for this year’s budget being scheduled for the morning and some asking for support against the plans to build an incinerator, but I don’t know how many answered that call or what else happened then, other than the fact that said plans were unfortunately approved. What I do know is that this protest I’ll write about below was supported by several organizations, but this time around Fridays for Future Romania notified the authorities of it and attempted to have the route of the march approved. However, offering the usual excuse that another protest was taking place there at the same time, even though this notification had been submitted well in advance, the starting location was moved from the city hall to Unirii Square, greatly reducing the length and visibility of the march, and obviously also attempting to ensure that those in the city hall won’t be “bothered” by our demands. Not that there actually was anything else taking place there at that time, of course, but even if that’d have been the case, the starting location could have been moved only across the road, to Cismigiu Park, with the route still passing by the city hall, going past an entrance that was different from the one the other protest was supposedly taking place at.
But those from Fridays for Future Romania did try to get around that, announcing another event, from 2 PM, right at the other end of Cismigiu Park. The message mentioned rehearsals starting at 1:30 PM, but otherwise few details were provided, so I didn’t know what to expect, but the idea of a promise to protect nature, state that we are part of it, admit responsibility for the extinction of other species, global warming and pollution and the need for action, and that we must unite with nature and support each other was definitely something I wanted to get behind, so I went there as well, reaching the location just before 2 PM… And ending up disappointed at best, if not quite bothered, by what ended up happening at least until they actually got to the city hall. Once there, they actually found a great way to be able to stick around without guards or gendarmes being able to do much of anything against them, but what happened in the park was a poor choice in my opinion.
Those who were there when I arrived had apparently already filled the pledges, which seemed to ask each participant to name a plant or animal species and state their name, pledging to learn from and about it, see it and all others as brothers and sisters and tell them that they’re not alone anymore. That was pretty good and I’d have wanted to fill one as well, but only a few were left when I got there and they were filled before I could work up the courage to take one, so I was left wondering how else to participate for a few moments, and then quickly deciding that I wasn’t going to take part in what ended up being some “hippie” pseudo-spiritual “ritual”. Those who had arrived early had been given wreaths and they were wearing them on their heads, there were drums and a few other such instruments, and a guy started chanting and asking the others to do the same and step in a certain way, saying that all should maintain that rhythm in order to reach a divine state, enter another dimension and other stuff like that. It all just reminded me of the term “fluffy bunnies” and, viewing it as a Neopagan, it occurred to me that, if I wouldn’t be so agnostic, I might have even been somewhat offended.
They left that starting location at 2:05 PM, chanting and drumming while walking through the park, and I hesitantly followed a short distance behind them, wondering what was going to happen next. Then, when they climbed up to the top of the mound, I first walked past it, then returned and climbed up another path, passing through them and then going back down behind them. It seemed that, other than the guy leading and those playing instruments, it was mainly just the teenagers, those who were probably there for a “school strike”, who were going along with it, the few older participants and the reporters also hanging back, looking rather confused, amused or both. But I didn’t even care to just hang back anymore, so when they left again I went in another direction for a bit, then headed for the main exit on what I guess was a parallel route, occasionally hearing or seeing them even though they were quite some distance away.
I returned among those who were hanging back when the participants were in a circle, on the grass, close to that exit. Some guards came to talk to them, but eventually they were allowed to continue the “ritual”, which went along those same lines with the exception of a moment when a guy spoke for a little while, saying some things that were actually relevant, having to do with environmentalism. I stepped closer then, and so did most of the others, but the “leader” pretty much cut him off after a few moments, returning to his “ritual” and driving those of us hanging back away again as a result. It was funny when a reporter who had just arrived watched with confusion for a moment and then told another one that she had been sent there for a protest against the mayor and didn’t know what she was looking at and what to do with it.
A bit before 2:55 PM, after the “ritual” was apparently completed, we left the park, the main group needing five minutes to cross the road and get to the city hall, the crossing being a short distance away and needing to wait for the light to turn green, though some reporters and a few others just crossed directly, when there was no traffic. Of course, a guy met us there and started arguing that we couldn’t stay in that spot, at one point saying that there can’t be any event taking place there because people are working in that building and they can’t be bothered by the noise, though I’d assume that the whole point of a protest is to “bother” those it’s aimed at. I’d also assume that the other protest which was supposedly taking place there, the one listed as the official reason why the march couldn’t start from there, would have also “bothered”, but I guess that by that point even the authorities had given up pretending that said other protest actually existed.
That discussion went on for a few minutes, and the reporters also took some interviews there, but then, at 3:10 PM, a woman I have seen before, possibly one of those who can be said to have been the organizers, and whom I had noticed walking away at some point before the end of the “ritual” and not getting involved in those discussions with that guy either, quickly got the others to follow her to a side entrance and started tuning her guitar as others sat around in a circle and displayed some banners and signs, making sure not to block the entrance. Then a guy asked what those working inside would like to listen to on Valentine’s Day, and since the answer coming from the other participants was love songs, she sat down and started singing one, the others joining in. And they continued in that manner, with her finishing one song and suggesting another, asking whether people knew it and singing it if enough seemed to say so. That left that guy and the few gendarmes who had gathered there unsure how to react, since at that point they were dealing with a “cultural” event whose organizers had also specifically taken care not to block access, so they had no legal basis to stop it. Still, they seemed to be discussing it, and as the reporters and most adults peeled away one by one, a Gendarmerie van pulled in. I didn’t see anything indicating that there were problems, but just then, after the end a song, those gathered in that circle started chanting a slogan and, since I was already thinking of walking away anyway, I did so, just after 3:30 PM. I was among the last ones left outside that circle anyway, and walking away just then also meant I passed by a few gendarmes just when one of them was telling the others, who seemed pretty much at a loss, that he knew what to say to them, before they started walking towards that group.
I rejoined the group just after 5 PM, finding them at the starting location of the march. Others who had walked away were also returning around the same time, and others arrived there directly, so at that point there were about 50 or 60, and by the time the march started, at 5:45 PM, I counted about 110, that number continuing to increase over the course of the march, reaching just about 150 when I counted again, when we reached the Ministry of Environment, a bit after 6:10 PM. Still, and despite the fair amount of media attention, the numbers were low, so it was no surprise that we marched on the sidewalk after all, even though it had been stated that we’ll be marching on the street, on one lane. But at least it wasn’t another silent march, as there was plenty of chanting on the way, and there were a couple of nice chants against using cars, one of them having apparently been created by someone just that day and becoming the evening’s favorite. On the other hand, and despite the other organizations that were involved and present at that point, you can unfortunately still recognize the protests led by Fridays for Future here by the fact that they continue to “import” the “standard” English slogans and texts without adapting them, some of them being forced translations and one slogan being chanted in English directly, which didn’t strike me as a good idea for a protest taking place here.
Once at the Ministry, someone came out to talk to us, and the organizers had already been informed that this was going to happen. And the guy started by saying that he agreed with us, was on our side, was glad that such events are taking place, and later extended an open invitation, saying that at any point, between 7 AM and 11 PM, we’re welcome to come to the Ministry to discuss our concerns, without scheduling events or letting the press know. In fact, he seemed to have a problem with the press, and refused to answer reporters, sticking to talking to the participants, but his attitude in that discussion was one I can’t find a problem with. He did rather tend to blow off those who approached him aggressively, but as long as he was approached calmly, he really seemed to try to answer every question, even staying for quite some time after walking away from the main group to continue talking to a few others who had some more questions, some of them dealing with other matters.
He eventually walked back inside a bit before 7 PM, when the protest was scheduled to end, and the organizers took care to stick to that schedule, fitting the last two things they wanted to do into those last few minutes. One of those things was to light 62 candles and hold 62 seconds of silence for the 62 people who die on an average day in Romania because of air pollution, though if you go with the numbers they were quoting, 23000 per year, that actually makes for 63 per day, and in other places I saw much higher numbers anyway. The other thing was to quickly repeat that chant in English, which those from Fridays for Future seem really fond of, one more time. Then the end was called, pretty much exactly at 7 PM, and those who had stayed until then, since plenty had walked away earlier, scattered. Some of those who had been more aggressive in their approach, including those who had organized the previous marches for clean air, were voicing their displeasure at the outcome and the attitude of the representative who had talked to us, but I disagree with them, at least when it comes to the attitude. What, if any, the practical outcome will be remains to be seen, of course, and one of the main demands, and chants, was to stop talking and start acting, after all.

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