It’s been a week already since the beginning of protests in Romania. Every day in Bucharest and in over 40 cities more Romanians go to the streets to express their dissatisfaction with the abuses of the ruling regime and calling for the ouster of President Traian Basescu, as well as early elections.
The explosion of discontent seems to have surprised the authorities. In fact, it is not surprising, but a crass lack of consideration for the citizens who elected them. We speak of a system with serious deviations from the laws of democracy (some amended by European Community institutions). It is a corrupt and arrogant regime. Proof – after week of protests the governments proves to be deaf to the voice of people and have no solution to calm the thousands of protesters who are daily in the street in the extreme cold. Proof – the main supporters of the system led by foreign minister of Romania, T. Baconschi, considered that the most intelligent way of social dialogue (so called by Prime Minister Boc) is to refer to the protesters with epithets such as “peripheral inept, worms, fanatics, ciumpalaci – I know that is untranslatable, a Romanian version of Lemmings“.
A brief chronology of events
A bit over a year ago, Romanian watched as peaceful people took to the streets in several countries across the ‘Arab world’ in what was later on called the ‘Arab Spring’. Then Romanians, apparently as impassive, watched on TV the Indignados and Ocuppy Wall Street movements in mother Europe and America. The government then imposed extreme austerity measures that affect the poorest populations of the European Union. President – Premier did not seem to notice that the cut of a pension of 1,000 euros (Greece) is a measure of austerity and cut a pension of 200 euros or below (Romania) is a crime. Aberrant measures had, however, motivation: the IMF agreement. Motivations were found to suspend debate and dialogue between government and parliament. Then came the adoption of organic laws of vital importance by the government without consulting parliament.
Romania – faked democracy !
Before Christmas holiday appeared the first discussions on a number of irregularities in Health Act which would be taken also without consulting parliament. Vigorous supporter of the existing project, President Basescu said on national television that the Deputy Health Ministry, Raed Arafat, is the main enemy of health system reform. Arafat, a Syrian Arab that has become a Romanian citizen, has distinguished himself by successfully founding the only professional emergency rescue service in Romania (SMURD), thereby embodying professionalism and moral standing in a healthcare system that is mostly regarded as book-example of corruption and oftentimes considered an expressway to the grave.
Two weeks later, President Basescu with the usual habit to replace the prime minister and lead Romania as his own feud, intervened in the live TV debate vehemently criticized Arafat opinion and accused him of ‘leftist views’. The consequence of such a forceful televised intervention on behalf of President Basescu was that Arafat presented his resignation shortly afterwards. In the following days discontent exploded.
Initially the protests supported Raed Arafat and condemned the arrogance attitude and usual insolence of head of state. Facing public pressure, President Basescu decided to scrap the reforms Friday, saying he made the decision after realizing that a majority of those in the medical system and the population opposed to the change. It was certainly one new mistake of President Basescu.
Tired of systemic corruption, theft unmasked and faked democracy, Romanians hit the streets in over 60 cities in seven days of protest. They demanded the resignation of President Basescu and early elections. People chanted: Ultimate solution, once the revolution! – with reference to the revolution of 1989 when the communist regime was overthrown. Or, better, a revolution for evolution!
Prime Minister Boc, Minister of Health and other government leaders have avoided for days to appear in public. Although they did later appear to just to throw invectives on the protesters or to mimic a dialogue with opposition forces. In an failed attempt to appease the spirits, the PM said that he and the president were misinformed on health law. But the PM has not said who is guilty of this disinformation! Raed Arafat was reinstated in office. But useless. Although Romanians protest vehemently this week, President Basescu (the same, which has usually the custom to intervene in all sorts of things that do not concern the duties of head of state) has avoided expressing an public opinion.
The operation was successful, the patient is in coma
As protests intensified, the government is hoping that the cold can deter the protesters and things will calm down. Next week will be a special session of Parliament. About the main demands of the population, Prime Minister Boc said that they are not justified, noting that early elections would create a dangerous precedent and affect economic stability. In addition, he said that Romania would become unattractive to investors. The Romanian Prime Minister seems completely unrealistic. In what civilized and democratic countries are early elections a dangerous precedent? What attractive business environment it is, if in 2011 the volume of foreign investments in Romania fell by 36%? Oh, yes, the EU and IMF demanded austerity in Romania and government conformed – now there are riots and 18% of Romanian live below the poverty line (compared to Czech – 2% ,Ireland – 4%), and austerity measures are decreasing the purchasing power of Romanians with over 9% in a year – according to a survey of the Institute for Quality Research of Life.
Two million Romanian workers are at risk of poverty. To get a clearer view: in the UK an employee who lives in poverty earns 967 euros monthly, a Romanian poor employee earns 159 euros, achieving the lowest minimum wage in EU countries. Minimum wage in Bulgaria is 233 euros and 326 euros in Poland. In conclusion: the operation was successful, the patient is in coma!
Functional hypocrisy and dual attitude
One year ago, President Ben Ali of Tunisia became the first casualty of the 2011 Arab Spring. Could we now be witnessing in Romania the first shoots of a European Spring? asked editor Neil Clark from The Week – UK Edition. Although Romania is far from being a genuine democracy, I think such a comparison is inappropriate, however. We can speak rather an evolution than a revolution, if the “Orange” regime in Bucharest would comply with democratic rules. But if not? It seems that for evolution will be needed a new revolution. No matter how unpleasant it may sound.
Of course, the disturbances are undoubtedly embarrassing for the EU, the IMF and those western leaders for whom the Romanian government has been a staunch ally. Of course, hypocrisy and dual attitude of foreign partners are operating in this case. In contrast to neighboring Hungary, Romania accepted all that was dictated from abroad, whether we refer to being a U.S. strategic partner, the European partners or high finance world. The Romanian Government had nothing to comment even when thei have asked abberant action against its own people. Thus it is easy to understand why European leaders immediately warned the government in Budapest at the recent protests of the population. But in respect of tandem Basescu – Boc, except for discrete requirement that Romanian head of state to express their opinion, European partners prove to be very “bashful”. Although the deviations from the democracy line of leader in Bucharest are not far from those of Viktor Orban.
The U.S. Embassy in Bucharest also did not feel the need to say something, preferring only to follow the events. Even if on his visit to the White House last September, President Basescu, a hard-core Atlanticist, was formally “congratulated” for signing up to the US-Romania Ballistic Missile Defence Agreement and the US-Romania Joint Declaration on Strategic Partnership for the 21st Century. An important partnership for U.S. in the context of an increasingly tense international atmosphere not only with Iran and Syria, but also with Russia (became an open supporter of the two countries). Moreover, a partnership that need to be fully functional regardless of who will occupy the chair of president of the state. The attitude of expectation may be due to the fact that potential substitutes (at least at this time) of President Basescu have strong pro-American view, so there is little reason for concern. Clearly, the Romanian citizens matters less in this equation.
So, Western leaders will prefer to wait and will be hoping that the Romanian government can survive the current disturbances. They cannot condemn a people who demand the right to decency and respect from his politicians. Also they cannot condemn the authorities – because in the next minute President Basescu would not hesitate to accuse the EU of irrational austerity measures that are imposed on the government in Bucharest.
Analysts said the protests are a sign of revival of Romania civil society. I would say that this is an example of national and social solidarity. A successful example after several years of silence in which complaints have steadily accumulated.
It is hard to predict how it all will end in Romania. However, as noted Swedish political expert Vilhelm Konnander: “What I can’t help seeing is the pattern of protest that is spreading globally, where attitudes of politicians, blaming external factors for crisis, lead to higher demands for accountability. To whom are political leaders responsible – the people of the IMF, EU, etc.? It will be interesting to see how this turns out in Romania, but the basic observation seems to be that far too many politicians have forgot whom they are answering to”.
The bad news for PM Boc and his colleagues in the governing Democratic Liberal party is that the disturbances show no sign of abating. Moreover, they could increase in intensity during the weekend. Flagrant violations of human rights were part the early protests. Numerous attempts to intimidate participants in the protests, police abuses, frame-ups of violence to discredit the protests. Without success! At the moment the regime in Bucharest is autistic. Political power has made a few steps back. What’s next? Whether they fail slowly, step by step or will they tense the muscles of authoritarianism. If the 20 years of democracy, even mimed, meant something for the political class, they will fail. The Government will be dismissed, it will form a government of technocrats and elections will be held – early or on time – but not in a cumulative way for local and parliamentary elections, as hoped for by the current government. And perhaps the most important thing of those described above: Romanians are reminded about good moral principles and values that prevails in its heritage as a nation. It’s a good sign.