A Message of Civic Duty from the Recent Protests in Romania


  Good governance is indispensable to the well functioning of democracy, yet systems of representation often cannot guarantee it. The political leadership of catch-all or mass parties is bureaucratized and laden with personal interests and power games. Thus, it is the least responsive to the needs of constituencies, all the more those of marginal, socially disenfranchised, citizens. Sometimes, though, the bubble of politics explodes, animating a sense of justice among (a fraction of) the citizenry. This is what happened after the night (10PM-12AM) of the 31st January, when the Romanian Government adopted an Emergency Ordinance with which it planned to modify the Penal Code so to decriminalize the infraction of abuse in office.

Indeed, it is since the executive led by Sorin Grindeanu took over on January 4th, that its Ministries have shown to be particularly keen on spending their relative majority in trying to guarantee themselves judicial immunity. At the peak of the protests two weeks ago, approximately 250,000 occupied Piata Victoriei (Victory Square) to ask for the abrogation of the Ordinance in front of a now desert palace of government. This event gained international publicity, however it was only the result of a more protracted civic mobilisation that began three weeks before, when the government had opened discussions on the possibility to write a law on amnesty and pardon. The lack of tact and strategic vision of the present government appear clear when considering that they spent one month trying to centralise power by weakening checks and balances. The engagement of many has blocked the executive from doing that this far. A part of the community has taken responsibility and is discovering its political power, the power to concur to decide what is right and what is wrong. If only our political leadership had a clue about the boundaries of decency and could contain its possessive mania! The problem is we have not yet agreed on the importance of some basic common principles of ‘life together.’ These might be written in the Constitution, but most often have to be protected by the touch and sense of justice of critical citizens. It is about time that they come to the attention also of decision makers, open their eyes, and point them in the right direction.

Some on social media have tried to delegitimize protesters with the use of silly argumentations, more appropriate to troublemakers than to educated and self-critical individuals. To the extreme, it has been suggested that these protests constitute a blind and direct attack on the Government of the Social Democratic Party, concocted by that fragment of the citizenry who would prefer the ‘left’ had not won the election in December 2016. On the same line, accusations are directed at the President, Klaus Iohannis (once president of the National Liberal Party), of taking too strong a position during the discussions on the law on amnesty and pardon, so to polarize public opinion and create a disequilibrium. Of course, but quite alarmingly, the government preserves the silence after having been scolded so powerfully. This is with the exception of a recent declaration, made by the Ministry of External Affairs, regarding the intention of the Government to discuss with NGOs and the European Commission future plans of revision of the Penal Code. On the positive side of things, the Minister of Justice, Florin Iordache, announced on the 10th of February his intention to resign.

It is very unlikely that we will witness a change of mind in executive officials in the close future. The government has lost its legitimacy, and the main factor ensuring its continued power is the unpreparedness of other political parties to create and govern a solid cabinet. In such circumstances of questionable democracy, one hopes that the sentiment of civic duty that the Romanian society has been developing will continue to grow. Creativity and cooperation can be powerful promoters of social change, if nurtured. Nobody would disagree that protests in recent weeks are about creativity and cooperation. We must agree with international press agencies that Romania has given a great example of cohesiveness. Peaceful manifestations of dissent (ever more characteristic in our societies) are nutrients for the soul; they offer a sense of fulfillment to anybody feeling left alone. Cleavages between the urban and the rural, lower and middle classes, so present in Romania too, are marginal to this manifestation. Studying the demographics of protests like these is less important than trying to understand the degree to which these can set an example and give a scope to a truly inclusive movement. When each and every one of us will assume responsibility for fighting for his or her own life and wellbeing, then we will rest assured that no abuse will remain unchallenged.            


This post was written by Simone Papa, who is studying an MA in Social and Political Theory at the University of Birmingham and is the STAND UK Correspondent for Asia and Europe.