International press reports on Romania’s half a million anti-graft rally

Newsroom 06/02/2017 | 12:59

The international press gave extensive coverage of Sunday’s mass protests that saw around 500,000 Romanians take to the streets in the sixth consecutive day. The biggest rally, in Bucharest, saw Victoria Square turn into a sea of lights, despite the government revoking the controversial bill that sparked the protests.

Many news outlets gave extensive background information on the bill and its perceived effects on Romania’s anti-corruption drive. “The late-night introduction last week of an emergency ordinance to turn a blind eye toward bribery, fraud and other crimes by officials if the amount involved was less than about $48,500 provoked a lightning response from Romania’s civil society,” wrote time.com.

“In recent years, Romania had shown success in tackling graft, with the DNA, its national anti-corruption directorate, pursuing officials at all levels […] In the first eight months of 2016, action by the DNA led to court cases involving 777 indicted defendants, including ministers, MPs, and judges.

That may have been the problem. By rooting out corruption even at local levels, the DNA hit the powerful party machine of the centre-left PSD, which returned to power in December. The measures that were passed by the government looked like payback to local barons and cronies for helping to ensure that victory,” the Financial Times wrote in an unsigned article titled “A victory for people power in Romania.”

“The measures the Social Democrats took shortly after assuming office again early last month were widely seen as an effort to protect corrupt politicians, including making it possible for Mr. Dragnea to escape a possible prison sentence and to be eligible to serve as prime minister,” the New York Times reported in a Sunday piece titled Romania’s Leaders Back Down, but Protesters Aren’t Going Anywhere, which highlights Romania’s anti-graft efforts and its tradition in securing major changes via mass street protests.

In its extensive piece, Time explained one of the lesser known effects of the controversial 13/2017 emergency ordinance. “One part of the ordinance that gained less attention also weakened human rights protections and eased penalties for related crimes. It would have substantially reduced the sentences for officials who violated or restricted the rights of people based on race, religion, disability or HIV status. 289 It would also, in some cases, have decriminalized discrimination committed by officials.”

Why are Romanians still upset?

As many news outlets noted, demonstrators are still mistrustful of the Grindeanu government. Moreover, the executive’s plans to redraft the bill and send it to Parliament for debate did not go well with many, who are calling for the government to resign. The Grindeanu government has been in office for only a month.

“The government hoped that by scrapping the decree, calm would return to the streets of the country – but that hasn’t happened yet. Many in the crowd don’t trust the government to keep to its word. They are afraid that new legislation, promised by the prime minister when he abolished the decree, might contain some of the same elements in a different form,” the BBC wrote.

“Protesters remain dissatisfied about a revised version of the bill which will now be put to parliament,” the BBC wrote, adding that “protesters expressed concerns about the government’s plans to redraft the law and send it for debate in parliament, where it could be forced through,” the BBC said in a piece published February 6.

Tens of thousands join peaceful, almost festive protests

“The protests so far have been largely peaceful, even festive. Parents brought young children and large pets, while volunteers distributed fresh-baked sweets to kids bundled up in wool hats and winter wear”, Time wrote.

“At 9 p.m., protesters turned on their cell phone lights and pointed them at the sky, creating a sea of bright pinpoints. They sang the national anthem and later went silent for five minutes in memory of the heroes of the 1989 revolution that overthrew Communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu,” CNN reported on one of the highlights of Sunday’s Victoria Square protests.

“The crowds, largely young, have chanted, waved banners, blown vuvuzela horns in the national colours and paraded effigies of government officials in black-and-white prison uniforms,” Aljazeera reported.

“Romanians need to remain vigilant to ensure that the decrees are not reintroduced in some other form, and that the government does not erode other democratic checks and balances,” the FT concluded its report.

Georgeta Gheorghe

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