'27 years of corruption is enough': Romanians on why they are protesting
After six nights on the streets, Romanian protesters appear to have won after the government scrapped corruption legislation that ignited the country’s largest demonstrations since the fall of communism. But those who responded to , and are demanding that the government step down.
“They are profoundly corrupt. Their first priority after taking office is to alter the most important work that has been done in in the past 28 years: the anti-corruption fight,” says Andrei, a 28-year-old air traffic controller, who protested in Bucharest. “Nobody wants a reversal to the period of the early noughties where there was no consequences for organised fraud.”
after the government put through a decree to decriminalise corruption involving sums of less than 200,000 lei (£38,000). The prime minister, Sorin Grindeanu, of the Social Democratic party (PSD) and who has been in office for less than a month, repealed the order on Sunday.
“In such a young democracy and with such a history, old habits of putting up with whatever is being thrown at you are hard to break. But 27 years of corruption are enough,” says Adrei, 32, from Buzău in the east of Romania.
“They have awoken our sleeping giant called conscience and you can see them scared of it roaring in every city. Even in my hometown of 120,000 people which traditionally is aligned with the government, hundreds of people took to the street,” he says.
An immediate beneficiary of the decree would have been the PSD leader, Liviu Dragnea, who faces charges of defrauding the state of €24,000 (£20,000). Dragnea has said he has not ruled himself out as a future leader, but under current law is not allowed to be appointed prime minister because of his conviction.
“I do not care that much about the fact that they wanted to print some ‘get out of jail’ cards for a few party members, but the manner in which this thing tried to be achieved is absolutely disgusting; the decree was adopted in the middle of the night and it wasn’t even in the day’s schedule. The parliament was completely ignored even though the situation was not an emergency,” says Mihnea, 17, from Pitești in south-central Romania.
“I do not usually protest because there were not many occasions in my lifetime when the actions of the current administration were 100% illegal. There is no way they will be able to govern after the huge mistake that they’ve made.”
Grindeanu has said his government, which won about 46% of the vote in December, will not resign. His cabinet still plans, using a separate order, to free about 2,500 prisoners serving sentences under five years.
“It’s the same people running the country that were doing it before the , their family members and political friends,” says Belinda, 32, a hair salon owner living in Timișoara, a city in the west of the country that will be the European capital of culture in 2021.
“In the last five years I have lost all my friends [to emigration]. They are happier than they ever were in Romania. My generation must win and come with something new, or this country is forever lost – no drama here, just the inevitable truth.”
Romanians who responded to our callout expressed dismay over a lack of jobs, low-quality education, low wages and a crumbling healthcare system, as well as how deeply corruption plays a part in their daily lives.
“Stress is a word that describes perfectly the state most of us are constantly living in. Our everyday problems are absurd. I shouldn’t wait six hours in a queue every month to pay my taxes, because institutions are not in the digital era. I shouldn’t live in fear that some institution is going to shut my small business if I do not pay the bribe to be left in peace,” says Belinda.
Romania is considered one of Europe’s poorest and most corrupt countries. Last year, a report by the IPP thinktank revealed 15% of MPs elected in 2012 were either under investigation for graft, had already been convicted, or chose to step down for other positions.
“Corruption is something that we, Romanians, got used to. I am scared to go to a public hospital because I wait for hours or pay bribes for a consultation,” says Ana, 36, an economist from Bucharest.
“I am terrified of having to send my kid to a public school, where there are very high chances to be traumatised by frustrated teachers that yell and physically punish kids to discipline them. I am sick to think there is nothing I can do but bribe the teachers and school directors.
“I bribe civil servants to do their jobs and stay at long queues to get a signature on a paper. The former prime minster Dacian Cioloș issued a decree asking the schools and hospitals to select managers based on professional criteria, after an objective and public exam. I thought that was a very good idea. A new ruling cancelled those regulations.”
Laura, 44, a dentist from Transylvania who lives and works in Sweden, flew from Malmö to take part in the protests with her 101-year-old grandfather as soon as the decree was announced.
“Romanians are used to suffering and did not retaliate other than fleeing abroad and taking the jobs in that nobody else wants – fruit-pickers, cleaners, service personnel and so on. We deserve more than this,” she says.
“Unfortunately people were so disillusioned that they did not vote and the result was the victory of the Social Democrats, the only party with a disciplined group of senior voters that are always ready to cast their vote.
“I have been to all the six protest marches in and will continue doing so until I see that the decree disappears and the government is replaced. I am tired of the way the Social Democrats treat the Romanian people.”
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