Anti-government protests in the Romanian capital Bucharest, and several other cities across the country, continued for the second consecutive day even after 400 people were injured in Friday’s first round of protests, after violent clashes between peaceful protesters and riot police, who fired tear gas, pepper spray, and a water cannon into crowds calling for government resignation amid high levels of corruption.
According to local media, Friday’s (August 10) “Diaspora at Home” protests saw up to 100,000 people (not including an additional 40,000 protesting in other cities) gather in Bucharest’s central square outside government buildings. Up to 450 people (including several riot police) required medical attention after police set up cordons in the square, blocking protesters from moving further and forcing them to leave, resulting in the violence. Police issued a response on Saturday morning defending their use of force and “legitimate state violence” because protesters refused to leave the square when they were asked. However, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis denounced the violence and called on the Interior Ministry to “urgently explain” the management of the protest, stating that police actions were “strongly disproportionate with the demonstrations of the majority of people in Victoria Square.” Saturday’s repeat protest, comprised of an estimated 50,000-80,000 people, appeared much calmer.
The marches were organized largely by Romanian expatriates working and living abroad, many of whom left the country for better living conditions and to escape the entrenched corruption of the government and current ruling party. Many of these expats returned to Romania to attend the protests. In the past 15 years, an estimated 4.5 million Romanians have left the country and around three million Romanians currently work and live abroad. In 2017, Romanian expats sent an estimated €4.3 billion back to family in Romania, accounting for almost 2.5% of the country’s GDP.
While anti-corruption and anti-government protests and rallies have continued in Romania since early 2017 (following the country’s largest protest in decades, comprised of half a million people) this was the first large-scale, mass protest held since January 2018, and has boosted a slipping morale, as little changes are made by the government to tighten corruption laws.
Romania is considered one of the European Union’s most corrupt nations and its justice system is regularly monitored by the EU. With their election in 2016, the country’s ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) brought increased government corruption while simultaneously attempting to loosen laws relating to the abuse of power, which critics said would decriminalize government corruption, and help many public officials involved in past and ongoing corruption cases escape charges and punishments. Romania was last year ranked 49 out of 180 on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, significantly below other European nations.
Further adding to frustrations with government corruption, Laura Codruta Kovesi, a key prosecutor at the head of the National Anti-Corruption Directorate, was fired by the President who was forced to do so by the PSD, after she successfully helped prosecute 700 officials accused of corruption (including a number of politicians and mayors). Kosevi was considered by many as a symbol of the country’s fight against entrenched corruption.
Romania is also one of Europe’s poorest nations, and low wages coupled with poor living conditions and way of life, have contributed to government distrust and discontent and until the government acknowledges its peoples’ concerns, they will remain mistrustful of the government, and continue to call for their resignation.
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