domingo, 12 de fevereiro de 2017
10 days that shook Romania
LETTER FROM BUCHAREST
10 days that shook Romania
There is no right or left in Romania’s protests. It is an example of direct, participatory democracy.
By MARIUS STAN AND VLADIMIR TISMANEANU 2/10/17, 12:57 PM CET Updated 2/11/17, 10:32 AM CET
A brief timeline and summary of events:
Day 1, January 31: Romanians’ anti-graft fight starts spontaneously around midnight, after the government’s official journal publishes an emergency ordinance decriminalizing several corruption offenses. Thousands of people gather in Victoriei Square in front of the seat of government; in other cities, thousands more follow suit.
Days 2, 3, 4 and 5: More and more citizens take to the streets throughout Romania, putting pressure on the Grindeanu-Dragnea cabinet to annul their initial decree. Protesters quickly realize that there are a number of constitutional strategies to pursue and turn their attention to government ombudsman Victor Ciorbea, the presidency, political parties, and various juridical bodies. What is striking to international observers is how mature, well-informed and politically aware most Romanians appear.
Day 6: Protest participation hits a new record: 300,000 protesters gather in Bucharest alone — where demonstrators make news for their eye-catching choreographic light shows and laser projections. About the same number take the streets in the rest of the country. Romanians extend their list of grievances day after day: they don’t just want the ordinance annulled, they’re calling for the guilty to resign, for a new government and greater accountability.
Days 7, 8 and 9: It becomes clearer that the government cannot bear the overwhelming popular pressure for too long, and it attempts to deploy various juridical and political strategies to safeguard itself. Government-friendly TV stations continue to manipulate audiences and slander anyone involved in the protests.
Day 10: At the time of writing, the fate of the original ordinance is still uncertain, but Romanians appear determined to resist heavy snow and blizzards to maintain the political pressure from the streets. Many expect a new participation record for the weekend. What emerged five years ago as a new civic movement in Romania — especially during the 2013 protests against a questionable gold mining project in Roșia Montană — has continued to grow and identify new causes. To ignore it would be a mistake.
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BUCHAREST — Romania’s civic revolution resumed 10 days ago, spontaneously and unexpectedly. The movement — self-started, non-utopian, non-ideological and peaceful — doesn’t show any signs of slowing. And not only in the capital. It seems that the old mole, in this case the revolutionary spirit of 1989, continues to dig deep.
This protest movement — the first major pro-EU and pro-Western upheaval in post-Brexit Europe, and without doubt the largest in Romania’s history — did not appear out of the blue. It has a great deal in common with previous rebellions, in 2012, 2013 and 2015. It is a reassertion of civic courage that is not driven by political parties but is instead an unabashed expression of civil society in action.
Nevertheless, while the link to the “lost treasure,” to borrow Hannah Arendt’s phrase, of Romania’s 1989 revolution is obvious, we are dealing with something new.
Protests have become a regular instrument in the hands of citizens of various ideological backgrounds. Can this new routinization of non-confrontational forms of civic action lead to a society of social movements? In countries like Romania, where democratic societies have decided to face their inner demons head-on, this may very well be the case.
The elements of this new social structure and civic ethos are still a work in progress, but in them we can already see the beginnings of direct democracy. Over the past 10 days, Romanians have tossed around ideas about citizens’ councils and alternative models of democratic representation. This movement acknowledges the modern subject’s inner conflicts and rejects the old revolutionary shibboleths. A major shift is happening in civil society, and we ought to explore its dynamics and repercussions.
This latest social movement is not anti-political. Its target is what Romanians call “dirty politics.” Understanding the Social Democratic Party’s political culture — its reactions and reckless resort to provocations like the emergency ordinance — is an important part of the puzzle.
The Social Democratic Party (PSD) is the successor of the National Salvation Front (FSN), which itself is the unavowed but undeniable successor to Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu’s Communist Party. Its party leaders — from founding father Ion Iliescu to Adrian Năstase, Mircea Geoană, Victor Ponta, present chairman Liviu Dragnea, and his proxy prime-minister Sorin Grindeanu — have preserved a neo-Bolshevik way of addressing political reality. They live by the maxim, “Whoever is not with us is against us!”
That is why these authoritarian PSD kleptocrats have not entertained the idea of communicating with the protesters. Instead, Iliescu emerged from hibernation to support Dragnea. He blamed president Klaus Iohannis for joining the demonstrations, saying: “Iohannis inflamed the spirits and created this anarchy.” In times of change and social unrest, the current government is indulging in deluded scapegoating.
In Bucharest’s Victoriei Square, one of the main sites of protest, there are no loudspeakers; there is no pre-assigned dramaturgy. No right or left. It is an example of direct, participatory democracy.
The language of protest has been at times funny, sarcastic, poignant and infinitely inventive. Take the conspiracy theories about George Soros being behind all anti-authoritarian protests, from the United States to Hungary, Poland, Romania and Russia. In Bucharest, this is the rebuttal: “Uncle Soros, wouldn’t it be cheaper to buy the PSD and close it down?” The verb “a închide” in Romanian has at least two meanings: “to close down” or “to send someone to prison.”
The main message is clear: We want to be free! Not since Paris in 1968 and Prague in 1989 has Europe seen a moment of collective emancipation like this one. At a moment when the Continent is experiencing a dismal slide into authoritarian populism, Romania’s mass civic mobilization on behalf of liberal values, accountability, transparency, and the European project may well be a prologue to similar movements elsewhere.
Over the past few days, the Western Balkans have witnessed an increase in calls for anti-corruption measures directly inspired by events in Romania. Bulgaria and Moldova have also seen demonstrations in solidarity with Romanian efforts.
We want to avoid succumbing to wishful thinking, but we can’t help seeing what is happening in Romania as the start of a new chapter in global efforts to reinvent politics and root out corruption. What is happening in Bucharest and tens of other cities across the country is uncontainable, inexhaustible, inextinguishable civic courage in action. It should be admired and praised.
At a historical juncture when populist demagogues are questioning the very future of the European Union, one of its small bordering countries is saying: Yes, we belong!
Marius Stan is a Romanian political scientist, currently a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Bucharest’s research institute. Vladimir Tismaneanu is a professor of politics at the University of Maryland (College Park). They have co-authored numerous books and articles, including, most recently “A Lenin Dossier: The Magic of Nihilism.”
Marius Stan and Vladimir Tismaneanu