The Power of the People
The events that occured in Romania from December 2016 to February of 2017 are a perfect example of popular concerted action and of social impact on governmental decisions.
The Controversial Decree
After PSD (Partidul Socialist Democrat) was voted into power during the Romanian governmental elections of December 2016, Liviu Dragnea (the leader of the PSD) put forth an emergency decree that stated any abuse of power offences with a sum below 200,000 lei (44,000 euros) would be automatically decriminalized. Dragnea himself is facing fraudal charges of €24,000, and thus would benefit from this law immediatley. It would also free over 2,500 corrupt politicians from jail.
While this would have a beneficial impact on the corrupt governmental officials of the country (such as Ion Iliescu, Victor Ponta, Călin Popescu Tăriceanu, etc., all people in the same situation as Dragnea, this decree would have had a resonating negative economic and social consequences for the country.
Corruption has been a part of Romania’s government since before the Anti-Communism revolution of 1989, yet it continues to this day. Many politicians have been involved in numerous scandals regarding bribery, embezzlement, theft, forgery, etc. Romania has been ranked the 57th out of 176 countries in the corruption rankings — the higher the number, the higher the corruption levels (Tamkin). This sets a bad example for the people of Romania, as they adapt the mentality of “if the government can break the law, so can I”. When the line between law maker and law breaker gets blurred to such an extent, what use is the authority anymore? Policemen, judges, guards, teachers, etc. all begin accepting bribes because they’ve witnessed that there are no consequences for doing so. Thus, the country lapses into a whirlwind of social instability and anarchy, where everyone bribes and cheats and steals, and rules are no longer followed because no one implements them.
Furthermore, this creates a sense of misanthrophy for one’s own country. Personally, it took me a long time to grow to love my country because of all its stark flaws. It would take my family about 9 hours to travel across Romania (from Bucharest to Radauti, a distance of 520km), whilst from Bratislava to Munich, a similar distance of 519km would be traveled in 5 hours. Why? Because the politicians of my country have made it impossible (through theft and embezzlement) for Romania to construct highways, thus putting us years back from other countries in terms of transport efficiency (which also has a negative economic impact). This, amongst other incidents, made me feel ashamed of my country for a very long time, which are sentiments millions of other Romanians share.
The main factor that has a significant social and economic impact is that of Brain Drain. Due to corruption in schools and universities, the higher education system has fallen behind many alternatives in other countries around Europe. This causes the majority of smart, productive students with high potential to immigrate to other countries where they feel their education will be more succesful. Thus, there is a drain of intellectuals in Romania which will thus not be able to contribute to the country’s economic growth, as they will be working in other countries. This, again, sets back the country economically and also socially, as it goes back to the idea previously discussed of cynical feelings towards Romania. This futher leads to more Brain Drain, and thus the country lapses in a viscious cycle.
Realizing that all these negative consequences would occur as a result of this decree, amongst many others that were not discussed, the people of Romania decided to take action. Hundreds of thousands of citizens went out to protest, standing in front of the governmental building at freezing winter temperatures (which in Romania can reach up to -20 degrees celcius) for over five consecutive days. Up to half a million (500,000) people showed up on February 2nd bearing flags and signs, determined to fight for justice.
After the fifth day of consecutive mass protesting, prime minister Sorin Grindeanu made a televised statement that an emergency meeting would be arranged to discuss the nature of the decree. He stated that he would “find a legal way to make sure it does not take effect”. It was agreed by the government that the law was to be retracted on February the 5th.
Thus, this was an example in recent history of concerted action of the general public. In response to the decree and the socio-economic limitations it would have placed on the country, the population of Romania organized a mass protest all over the country (not just in bucharest, also in Timisoara, Cluj, Sibiu, Brasov, Costanta, etc.) to fight for their rights for a non-corrupt country to raise their children in. It is also an example of how social pressure can influence politics and the decisions of governmental figures.
Connett, David. “Romania: Government Retracts Controversial Decree after Protests.” The Guardian, 4 Feb. 2017, www.theguardian.com/world/2017/feb/04/romania-government-retracts-decree-after-protests.
Mihailescu, Alex. “BREAKING NEWS. Proteste de amploare în întreaga ?ar?, cu peste 300.000 de oameni, dup? ordonan?a PSD.” Romania Libera, 2 Feb. 2017, romanialibera.ro/actualitate/eveniment/un-nou-protest-este-anuntat-pentru-miercuri-dimineata — in-semn-de-nemultumire-fata-de-oug-privind-dezincriminarea-abuzului-in-serviciu-439712.
Mutler, Alison. “Romanian Government Scraps Controversial Corruption Decree after Thousands Join Days of Mass Protest.” Independent, 4 Feb. 2017, www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/romania-corruption-protests-decree-law-decriminalising-officials-government-scrapped-thousands-a7563371.html.
“Romania Government Scraps Corruption Decree after Protests.” BBC, 5 Feb. 2017, www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-38871667.
Tamkin, Emily. “Thousands Take to Streets in Romania to Protest Attempt to Decriminalize Misconduct.” Foreign Policy, 1 Feb. 2017, foreignpolicy.com/2017/02/01/thousands-take-to-streets-in-romania-to-protest-attempt-to-decriminalize-misconduct/.