At 9pm on February 12, tens of thousands of people in Bucharest’s Victory Square formed the Romanian tricolour by lighting their mobile phone torches under pieces of red, yellow and blue paper. An estimated 50,000 Romanians were in the square, demonstrating for the 13th day in a row to demand the resignation of the government.
The long series of protests started on January 31 when the government adopted a controversial emergency decree partly decriminalising abuse of office at a late night session. The highest number of protesters was registered on February 5, when more than 500,000 people demonstrated across the country, in what is considered the largest protest since the fall of Communism.
Following the series of protests, also organised abroad by the Romanian diaspora, the controversial decree was repealed and the justice minister resigned. However, this does not seems to be enough for the thousands of people who gather every day in front of the government's headquarters. They say all who are responsible for the "attack on justice" should assume responsibility and leave the important public positions they hold in the country.
Although the number of anti-corruption protesters has decreased in the past week, the protests have shown the voice of the street can represent a force in Romania, in the absence of a credible or strong opposition.
"We want non-corrupt politicians as we have been tricked by them. We want transparency, credible people with solid principles and values," a protester told bne Intellinews. "[Former Justice Minister Florin] Iordache was just a scapegoat, he served others' interests, those who are really guilty are still in their positions and it will take a while until they resign," she added, saying that she will continue to attend the protests every day.
Protesters at Victory Square can be seen almost all day, but their number increases in the evening, usually to a few thousand. Apart from stopping the changes to the Criminal Code from coming into force, the protests have shown people's determination to defend the important steps the country has achieved in the anti-corruption fight.
On February 12, tens of thousands of people gathered in Victory Square despite the freezing temperature. The well known slogans "PSD, the red plague”, “Thieves" and "Resignation" were chanted again, while people waved the Romanian flag, as well as the flags of the EU and the US, which have shown their concern over the changes adopted by the government. Earlier in the day, a flashmob against the political class was organised in the square.
The protests have been peaceful and the participants have shown unity, given their shared views on the decree and the government. Some share free hot tea, biscuits and fruit, and others clean the square once the protest is over for the day. The protests will also be remembered for the witty and creative messages on the banners carried by the protesters, Victory Square illuminated by hundreds of thousands of phone torches, as well as the national anthem sung by thousands of people at a time.
The protesters claim they do not support any party and that the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) should continue in office after it won the December 11 elections, but with a different government.
"We hope to persuade PSD members to get rid of these thieves. I am sure they also have competent people in their party, they should replace this government with another one as they won the elections. They should all assume responsibility, not only one person," a protester holding Romanian, EU and US flags told bne Intellinews on February 12.
He added that Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu, PSD leader Liviu Dragnea, and senate speaker Calin Popescu Tariceanu should resign from their posts. Dragnea is considered one of the beneficiaries of the planned changes to the criminal legislation, as he is being tried for instigation to abuse of office. The PSD leader already has a two-year suspended sentence.
"We won't accept that one person takes responsibility. It is not normal. And the senate speaker should leave for his comments he made regarding the EU. This is unacceptable," the protester said.
Tariceanu previously said he wants the government tell the European Commission that Romania no longer wants to cooperate within the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM), set up to monitor progress against corruption in Romania and Bulgaria, because the country is being discriminated against, News.ro reported recently. He called the EC’s recommendations in the latest CVM report “nonsense”.
At the same time, rival protests against President Klaus Iohannis entered their eighth consecutive day on February 12. Smaller numbers of government supporters are protesting daily outside Cotroceni Palace, the president’s headquarters, accusing the president of dividing the country into two.
In January, Iohannis attended one of the protests against the planned changes to the Criminal Code. The move was criticised by government supporters, but it could have brought Iohannis, often criticised for his lack of involvement, more popularity from the anti-government side.
Meanwhile, there are rumours of mounting tensions within the PSD. One of the party’s vice presidents, the mayor of Iasi city, has been very vocal in criticising the controversial decree and the party's leadership.
"Another leadership is needed. [Dragnea] has been a good party leader, he brought PSD the best result in the past years, but a change of attitude is needed. Leading with an iron fist is no longer valid," Mihai Chirica said, according to digi24.ro. He added that he is not the only PSD leader unhappy with Dragnea.