Romanian anti-corruption activists dismantle Christmas fair at protest site

Romanian anti-corruption activists dismantle Christmas fair at protest site
By Iulian Ernst in Bucharest December 4, 2017

Romanian anti-government protesters halted the construction of a Christmas fair in front of the government building on Bucharest’s Victory Square on December 2. 

The site has constantly hosted protests against the ruling coalition since February. Romanian civic society fears the centre-left coalition, in office since December, is waiting for the best opportunity to weaken anti-corruption legislation and has continued its protest actions to keep up the pressure on officials. 

In the morning of December 2, a small group of protesters clashed with gendarmes but later in the day law enforcement bodies avoided conflicts and allowed protesters to dismantle the metal structures set up for the fair, hotnews.ro news service reported. 

There were no more than 200 protesters at the site on Saturday when they dismantled the metal structures, according to hotnews.ro, while around 500 gathered on Sunday evening at the end of the four-day bank holiday.

The opposition and protesters have claimed that the Christmas fair, the first of its kind organised in this specific location, is aimed at preventing protests against the government and the ruling coalition. 

There is some confusion over whose decision it was to host the fair in Victory Square, the site of Romania’s largest protests since the fall of communism early this year. The fair was formally organised by the municipality, headed by mayor Gabriela Firea — an influential member of the senior ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD). Firea claimed that the fair was decided at the request of the local school council, but the mayor of Bucharest’s first district, Dan Tudorache (himself a member of the PSD), admitted that the decision was taken by party’s leadership. Further adding to the complexity, Prime Minister Mihai Tudose has spoken out against the Christmas fair. 

The municipality has now abandoned its plans for the Christmas fair, but Firea accused protesters of breaking the law and warned that no more illegal actions will be allowed.

The requests of protesters who have gathered recently in the front of the government building on Victory Square are mainly targeted against the ruling coalition’s attempts to weaken the rule of law.

A bill amending the functioning of the judicial system is currently being debated in parliament, although information on the text published by local media so far does not reveal major deviations from the rule of law. Some of the amendments have to be made to bring legislation into line with Constitutional Court decisions. The most questionable paragraphs spotted by hotnews.ro in the text are related to the power to appoint magistrates, which would shift from the president to the magistrates’ body (CSM) under the proposed amendments. 

What really fuels protesters’ concerns, however, is the ruling coalition’s constant rhetoric against National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA), and the corruption probes targeting some of the PSD’s leading members.

The incident might be seen as yet another confrontation between the ruling coalition and protesters, but the power struggle within the PSD makes the development more complex. There are visibly more than two factions within the senior ruling party competing for power, although at this moment the incumbent leaders including the party’s president Liviu Dragnea are in full control. However, the countrywide rallies announced by the PSD for this month will show to what degree. 

Tudose has recently taken a dissident position within the party (including by questioning the idea of the Christmas fair), a stance that Firea has claimed is aimed at weakening Dragnea’s position. Tudose is trying to replace Dragnea at the top of the PSD, Firea bluntly stated. To further complicate the situation, Firea herself is seen as a valid candidate for the party leadership should Dragnea have to step down because of his legal issues — a scenario that becomes increasingly likely as more witnesses against him are heard by anticorruption prosecutors. Firea is one of several leading PSD figures to have criticised the fiscal amendments drafted and endorsed by the party, and actively promoted by Dragnea.

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