Romania’s Fight for Democracy Rages On
“Healthy societies are possible only when existing democratic institutions are supported and regularly checked by active citizens.” — RealClearWorld
Almost 30 years since the fall of communism, Romania continues to struggle with the development of a stable democratic system.
Corruption and lack of faith in government have motivated the largest protests (beginning on January 18th and continuing into the present) in the country since the end of its communist dictatorship.
Following an executive order to decriminalize abuses of power resulting in a loss less than 200,000 lei (about $46,500), half a million people took to the streets across the country in resistance. (Contextualize this amount with the average annual income, which is about $6,200.) Many Romanians interpreted the order, passed in the night without parliamentary review, as an act of retreat from their three-year fight against corruption.
According to Euronews,
“[B]etween 2014 and 2016, 1,171 people and 34 organizations/companies” have been charged with “abuse of office. The estimated losses due to corruption were more than $1 billion.”
The accused includes a prime minister, members of parliament, judges, mayors, CEOs, and other high-level positions, including the richest man in Romania.
Prosecution of high-status individuals would not be possible without the support of those in power themselves, including the president, Klaus Iohannis, who openly opposed the executive order.
Withdrawal of the order following protests and the subsequent resignation of the justice minister have brought necessary hope to a country with a quarter of its population in poverty but have not calmed citizens’ call for change.
Laura Kovesi of the National Anti-Corruption Department, the DNA, has been heading the anti-corruption campaign since 2013, boasting a conviction rate of 93%.
“The fact that ministers, senators, deputy secretaries of state or other public officials have been investigated by the DNA, and been convicted in a court proves that everybody is equal before the law, regardless of their social status or the fortunes they own,” said Kovesi.
Opponents of the DNA have accused the department of hypocritically abusing power itself and creating “witch hunts.” Critics claim the department’s high prosecution rate marks a return to communist-era manipulation, utilizing coercion, secret police, and leaks to the media, which mars the reputation of the accused.
Although Romania’s War on Corruption has gained notoriety due to its targeting of powerful figures, the struggle against corruption persists in daily life as well, such as in health care or education where bribery is a normalized means of getting things done.
The public’s dissatisfaction with the government came to a head in 2015 when a fire killed 64 people in a night club that failed to meet fire regulations, resulting in the resignation of the prime minister already charged with fraud, tax evasion and money laundering.
As a result of the country’s corrupt condition, much of the youth aspires to leave to seek opportunity elsewhere. Estimates range from 4.5 to 10 million Romanians living outside the country compared with its population of 20 million.
The fate of Romania remains unclear — a divided country in turmoil with a distrust in leadership makes for a difficult road ahead. But as people, especially the young, continue to take to the streets and social media to fight for their country, hope for a stable and transparent democracy remains.
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