Protests in Romania

Fall of another EU government

As austerity measures and changes in the medical system had threatened even more the lives of the Romanians, they decided to respond, using the last form they had in their power and, perhaps, the easiest to use: protests. Started on the 12th of January 2012, as a response to the new healthcare bill and the resignation of the respected Dr. Raed Arafat, the still on-going protests achieved some success until now, but are still far from their main target: the resignation of the President of Romania, Traian Basescu

from Bucharest, ROMANIA

On the 12th of January 2012, a number of people gathered in Targu-Mures, to protest against Dr. Raed Arafat's resignation, the new healthcare bill, and all the austerity measures taken since the beginning of the economic crisis, which materialised in tax increases, salary cuts and pension reductions. On Friday, the 13th of January, people gathered in Bucharest, in the University Square, to protest against the same things their fellow Romanians were protesting in Targu-Mures. As people continued to join, the crowd moved towards the Cotroceni Palace, where resides the Presidential Administration. The same happened the next day, when the protesters divided in two camps: one in University Square, and the other outside the gates of Cotroceni Palace.

However, things turned ugly that Saturday and Sunday when some protesters, mostly people in the mood for violence and with no other desire than to fight, migrated from the initial, peaceful place of manifestations, the University Square, towards Unirii Square, destroying fences and vandalizing shops on their way. The protests turned violent, as the gendarmerie and the police felt compelled to respond in order to prevent other damages.

This also took a toll on the protests as a whole, with Romanian television exaggerating about the manifestations, making stipulations about what's really happening in the centre of Bucharest, and confusing the peaceful groups with the violent ones. This clearly came out as a wrong depiction of the events, as people in University Square were peaceful persons, ranging from students to parents with children, and old people, having placards demanding an improvement of the quality of life in Romania.

Yelling or not, holding a placard or not, people gathered in the University Square because they couldn't take it anymore with the actual government and felt it was time for a change. The intervention of the police and gendarmerie forces was criticised, as many people who were at the wrong time in the wrong place either got denied access to the University or Unirii Squares, either were arrested or, some, even beat up unjustly. Following this kind of declarations that took over both the Romanian and international media, it seems like the Romanian forces did not find themselves capable of making the difference between peaceful protesters and violent people.

Prime Minister's resignation

While the Romanian government failed to respond or to take any positive measure for the goodwill of the Romanians, the protests continued, although without the violence, while the opposition demanded an extraordinary plenary meeting of the Romanian Parliament, in order to discuss the on-going situation. Two critics rose during this first week of protests: first, that the violent protestors might have been paid to stir chaos and confusion by either the president, Traian Basescu or his government, or by some of the members of the opposition, with the first argument standing out as a more valid choice. The second regarded the opposition's delay in taking a stand, together with the people, as some might have expected it. Therefore, as protests progressed, and more cities all over the country joined, it became clearer that the protests were not just a manifestation of the people's indignation over Arafat' resignation and the austerity measures taken by the Boc government, but an expression of the people's distrust and sickness of all the political parties and political personas in Romania.

On the 16th of January, Prime Minister Boc made the first official statement, affirming that a new law on public health is being drafted and expressing his concern and interest into the goodwill of the citizens. But this only made the protesters continue; it did not stop them.

The first success of the protests was the return of Dr. Raed Arafat to his former position, as sub-secretary of state, on the 18th of January 2012, and the dropping of the new healthcare bill. Nevertheless, the people were not satisfied just with this. They started something, achieved a small victory, but this was not all. They continued to demand the resignation of both Prime Minister Emil Boc and his government, along with that of President Traian Basescu. Some placards encouraged support for the Romanian monarchy, meaning King Mihai and his family, urging them to take a stand.

Finally, a head went off: that of the Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi, from whom Prime Minister Boc received the resignation on the 23rd of January. But the people wanted much more, and, eventually, on the 7th of February, Emil Boc resigned. This also meant the fall of its cabinet and people such as Elena Udrea, Minister of Tourism, and other ministers considered to have done nothing but harm ever since they assumed their position in the respective offices.

However, the protests are still going on, even in this dreadful weather which hit Romania, showing that people will not satisfy with the general elections which will take place, most probably, in autumn in Romania. They also, definitely, don't want to wait until next year to get rid of the current president, Traian Basescu. Romanians want him to step down now, not in a couple of months or, even worse, next year.

A glimpse on the situation as it is

The Boc Government was doomed to fall, eventually, given the series of tax increases and significant cuts in the public sector wages, social benefits and pensions it imposed since the economic crisis. The now-dropped healthcare bill - which would have significantly reduced health support and benefits from the state, allowing private companies greater freedom and, thus, more to pay for the Romanian citizen when it came to health insurances &co.-, along with the subsequent resignation of Dr. Raed Arafat, the well-respected public figure who founded SMURD (Serviciu Mobil de Urgenta, Reanimare si Descarcerare - in Romanian, Mobile Service Emergency Resuscitation and Extrication), were the final drop for a nation already fed up with the corruption and lack of interest displayed by its leaders.

As the situation seemed resolved and the Boc Cabinet fell, it also marked the fall of another EU government since the euro crisis began, following the governmental crises in Slovakia, Slovenia, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Portugal, Ireland and Spain. And, as the protests in Greece seem to go on even bitter than before - especially amidst the new austerity measures - analysts in Romania may wonder if there is possibility to reach that level here as well.

The President named the Foreign Intelligence Service head Mihai-Razvan Ungureanu as Prime Minister (action which caused lots of disagreement with the opposition, but also among the Romanian people) and asked him to form a new cabinet. But, the members of the new Government are consider either inexperienced or easy to manipulate, which leads to more questions marks regarding the future of the manifestations and of Romania. Therefore, it is most likely that, once the winter is over and weather gets warmer, people will gather in growing numbers, once again, in the University Square, reprising the protests as they were in the beginning. Hopefully with no more violence this time.

(Published: 25.02.2012.)

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