Around 5,000 people created a huge EU flag in Bucharest’s Victory Square on February 26, showing respect to one of their allies in their anti-corruption fight. This was the 27th day of protests in the Romanian capital.
The long series of protests started late on January 31, after the government led by Sorin Grindeanu adopted an emergency decree partly decriminalising abuse of office. The decree was seen as a means of helping some politicians, including the leader of the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) Liviu Dragnea, evade justice, and a major step backwards in Romania’s drive to fight graft.
At 9pm on February 26, the protesters created the EU flag by lighting mobile phone torches under pieces of blue paper. Others held up yellow stars representing the EU’s 28 member states. The protesters then sang the national anthem and chanted slogans such as “Europe” and “In the night, like thieves” – a reference to the fact that the controversial decree was adopted at a late evening session.
Protesters said they wanted to send a signal to the EU that they do not identify with the views of senate speaker Calin Popescu Tariceanu, leader of the PSD’s coalition partner, and that they want to follow the European path.
Tariceanu previously said he wants the government tell the EC 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 recommendations in the latest CVM report “nonsense”.
“Tariceanu should have apologised and quit the next day, considering the gravity of his statement. This is unacceptable,” a protester told bne IntelliNews.
“I choose the European path, I want to be free to speak and express my opinions,” another protester, Alina, told bne IntelliNews in Victory Square. She added that she had come to Bucharest from Buzau, a town around 100km away, suggesting people do not protest there as they are afraid of the authorities.
Two weeks earlier, 50,000 protesters also used their phone torches to create a giant Romanian flag. Although the number of participants has dropped significantly, people have continued to gather in front of the government’s headquarters and ask for the resignation of Grindeanu, Dragnea and other people considered responsible for the decree.
The decree was harshly criticised by Romanian judiciary institutions, as well as by Romania’s external partners. It is very common to see EU and US flags being waved at the protests, as a sign of respect for their disapproval of the planned changes.
The European Commission said in January in its latest CVM report that the Southeast European country has made progress in judicial reform and the fight against corruption, but legal amendments that would weaken the scope of corruption as an offence, or which represent a major challenge to the independence or effectiveness of the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA), would entail a reassessment of the progress made.
Although lower in intensity, protests are likely to continue in Bucharest, people say. “I will come here as often as I can. They consider us stupid, they insult us. The big ones should leave, not scapegoats like [former Justice Minister] Iordache," said one protester.
At the same time, rallies in support of the government have been organised in the country. More than 8,000 people attended a rally in the town of Targoviste to show their support for the government led by Grindeanu. A similar one was organised a week earlier in Pitesti. In addition, daily protests are taking place in Bucharest.
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