Romanian Prime Minister Emil Boc fired the country’s top diplomat on Monday (January 23rd) over his insulting remarks about anti-government protesters.
“I have taken the decision to recall Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi and have forwarded a proposal to the Romanian president to remove him from his functions for the comments he made,” Reuters quoted the prime minister as saying at an extraordinary parliamentary session.
After the start of the ongoing demonstrations against austerity measures imposed by the cabinet and planned healthcare reforms, Baconschi described the protesters in a blog post on January 15th as “people stupefied by television”.
While the rallies over the past ten days have been generally peaceful, there have been several sporadic outbursts of violence, when police were attacked by demonstrators with bricks and Molotov cocktails. Baconschi called those people “inept and violent slum dwellers”, according to Reuters.
Announcing his decision in parliament Monday, Boc apologised to Romanians about his minister’s inappropriate remarks.
“I sincerely regret the gaffes made by some of my colleagues regarding the demonstrators,” he said, according to Germany’s Deutsche Welle.
Ioan Oltean, secretary-general of the Liberal-Democrat Party (PDL), the main party of the tripartite ruling coalition, told SETimes Baconshi’s dismissal is unlikely to appease the street protestors.
“The only solution I envisage is for the government to start a dialogue with the civil society, with representatives of the protesters and whoever has something to say under these circumstances,” he said, adding that so far there has been “insufficient” dialogue.
Baconschi had been attending a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels. He was reportedly notified about his dismissal over the telephone, with Boc describing his decision as a political one that had nothing to do with his performance as minister, according to The Sofia Echo.
In a statement to Romanian broadcaster Realitate later in the day, Baconschi showed no remorse for his remarks.
“I say what I think and mean what I say,” the DPA quoted him as saying.
Cristian Campeanu, head of the foreign affairs department of the newspaper Romania Libera, told SETimes that although Baconschi made inappropriate comments about the protestors, he shouldn’t have been fired.
“When you have an internal crisis, you do not manage it by firing the minister of foreign affairs. And you do not do it over the phone, especially when the foreign affairs minister is attending a crucial EU meeting over Iran’s oil embargo,” he said.
“Such a hasty gesture affects the country’s image. I tend to believe Baconschi’s removal was just a sacrifice ritual,” he added.
The rallies began on January 12th as a show of support for Palestinian-born Dr Raed Arafat, who resigned as ministry of health state undersecretary earlier this month, in protest of the government’s plans for healthcare reforms. However, they quickly turned into anti-government demonstrations, with calls for President Traian Basescu and Boc’s cabinet to resign, as a step towards early elections.
Addressing lawmakers at Monday’s parliamentary debate, Crin Antonescu, the leader of the opposition National Liberal Party (PNL) said Romanians were out in the streets because of their discontent with all in the country’s current political establishment.
“We required this debate because we believe that the majority of Romanians are discontented, that the majority of Romanians are challenging the political authorities because ‘Down with Basescu’ slogan means they want another president, because ‘Down with the government’ means that they want another government, and ‘Early elections’ means they want another parliament,” Romania’s Agerpres news agency quoted him as saying.
According to an Avangarde survey quoted by Realitatea.net, two-thirds of people in the country supported the protests.
The survey also found that 27% of respondents blamed Basescu for the current situation, while 23% accused the government and 37% believed the president’s resignation could put an end to protests, the paper reported.
One protestor, 45-year-old teacher Andrei Margarit, said the government needs to recognise that demonstrators have legitimate concerns and should not be grouped into the same category as the hooligans responsible for storming downtown Bucharest.
“Maybe Baconschi’s dismissal could shed some light on our manifestations and both people and politicians lend us their ears to hear our demands,” he told SETimes.
SETimes correspondent Paul Ciocoiu contributed to this report.