Romanian government can't stop protests

In Romania hundreds of thousands of protesters continue to demonstrate and call for the government to step down, despite the latter's withdrawal of its decree decriminalising certain corruption offences. Romania's papers explain why the government's resignation probably wouldn't change the overall situation and which protesters in particular deserve respect.

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Krónika (RO) /

Resignation won't bring change

The situation in Romania would not improve even if the government were to resign, the Hungarian-language daily Krónika believes:

“A resignation would hardly change things at all. Yes, those who are politically responsible for the scandal would disappear from the radar. But those who bear the prime responsibility, PSD leader Liviu Dragnea and Alde chairman Călin Popescu-Tăriceanu, would remain right where they are. On top of that Dragnea, who has himself been convicted of electoral fraud, has implied that he practically controls the government. So even if Prime Minister Grindeanu does step down, Dragnea would merrily continue to pull the strings. ... Any real change would require Dragnea's removal, but that's rather unlikely in the current situation.”

România liberă (RO) /

Where real heroes are

Unlike in the big cities where thousands of people are going out onto the street, protesters in the small cities are often lone wolves, România Liberă stresses:

“Cosmin Bârsan is the best-known example. His fame could cost him 150,000 lei [roughtly 34,000 euros], which the PSD mayor of the town of Odobești wants to fine him just because the young man criticised the mayor's work several times on Facebook. Despite this warning, he didn't hesitate to demonstrate all on his own in his city at the start of February, in protest at the Grindeanu government's amnesty decrees. ... In small towns such actions are tantamount to social suicide. Especially because unlike in the big cities, you can't remain anonymous among the thousands of demonstrators. ... The Romanians who have the courage to demonstrate in small towns are the biggest heroes of this February's 'velvet Revolution'.” (GR) /

Greeks should learn from Romanians

The Greeks should copy the Romanians' example, web portal Protagon advises:

“It was probably very hard for the average Greek to understand why so many people were protesting against corruption. Even though we have had many opportunities we never felt the urge to take to the streets to protest against our biggest problem. All our social 'battles' were confined to claims directed at the state, which supposedly always owes the citizens something and is not letting them have it. … The difference vis-à-vis the Romanians is obvious: the vast majority in Greek society has either direct or indirect connections to corruption. In Romania, however, because of the old regime only a minority, the old and new elite, is heir to the system.”

Magyar Narancs (HU) /

Impressive moral reserves

Romanian society won't be held back, journalist Zoltán Bretter writes in the weekly paper Magyar Narancs:

“The Romanians quickly cottoned on to the government's sinister intentions. Above all they made one thing clear: they are not willing to take the route marked out by Viktor Orbán. ... The Romanians have made it perfectly clear that they want to hold on to the moral ideal of a society that is free of corruption. And that despite the government's attempts to lure them with all kinds of social benefits. They have steadfastly resisted temptation. That shows there are moral reserves in Romania that have the potential to establish a political culture in the country which breaks with negative traditions and stands up to authoritarian tendencies.”

Deutsche Welle (RO) /

Demonstrators won't let themselves be manipulated

The government is trying to discredit the protests but this strategy won't work, the Romanian service of German broadcaster Deutsche Welle predicts:

“With the help of its oligarch-owned TV channels and network communicators, the government is acting as if Romania were in danger because the West and above all the 'multinationals' are supposedly bent on ruining the country's reputation. … But because the demonstrators are unusually well informed these diversionary tactics and totalitarian manipulation aren't working. In the age of social networks and a student body that knows how to use its brain, such manoeuvres are doomed to failure. It can't be ruled out that the government, once it realises that its propaganda offensive is pointless, will sooner or later revert to provocation and violence to divide and oppress the demonstrators.”

The Times (GB) /

Demonstrators aiming at the wrong target

The participants in the mass protests in Romania fail to recognise the true problem in their country, The Times warns:

“Their fury should be aimed elsewhere: at Romania's deep, secret state that has used the issue of corruption to settle scores with its enemies, erode basic rights and institutionalise a sinister connection between the judiciary, the secret police and the anti-corruption units. In 2015 the DNA claimed a 92 per cent conviction rate, a success many human rights organisation believe would be impossible without secret police wiretaps. ... The question arises: what is Romania doing in the EU at all? There were warnings before accession in 2007 and the EU did indeed insist on monitoring the justice system. Romania wants this to be lifted because of what it says is its determined war against corruption. Plainly the EU should do no such thing. On the contrary, it has to be more vigilant about the political manipulation of the justice system.”

Mérce (HU) /

Government could strike back

Journalist Szilárd István Pap discourages the demonstrators, citing Hungary as a deterrent on the blog portal Kettös Mérce:

“The demonstrators should content themselves with the withdrawal of the controversial bill. Those calling for the government to resign and new elections to be held are being completely unrealistic and destructive. The PSD won an election two months ago and it has no intention of giving up its power. If the pressure on the government doesn't let up illiberal conditions like those which Hungary is painfully experiencing could be the result. … If the demonstrators continue to question the legitimacy of the government, it will seek to save itself through anti-democratic measures and limit the freedom of expression. And it will mobilise its own voters and stir them up with demagogic, illiberal slogans.”

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

Demonstrators need a common vision

The Romanians may buck the authoritarian trend in Eastern Europe, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung comments approvingly:

“The conditions for that are better in Romania than elsewhere because the demonstrators and opponents of corruption have the backing of President Klaus Iohannis. The lack of such cohabitation is reducing the effectiveness of the protests in Hungary and Poland. Just how sustainable the Romanian movement of the indignant is, however, remains to be seen: simply opposing corruption isn't enough to create a majority - as Iohannis' party's discouraging election results in December showed. What is needed is a policy that offers the people a perspective. But there's no consensus whatsoever on that point even within the heterogeneous protest moment. In times of growing polarisation and differentiation, creating a broad consensus is a Herculean task - not only in Eastern Europe.”

NRC Handelsblad (NL) /

EU must not relent

The EU Commission must support the demonstrators in their fight against abuses of office, NRC Handelsblad urges:

“Corruption is so deeply entrenched in Romania that it's almost impossible to eradicate. The European Commission's reports on the fight against corruption always follow the same pattern: things are heading in the right direction but the situation still isn't good enough. ... After the success of the mass protests, the European Union also needs to send a clear signal. Since it joined in 2007, Romania has been subject to a special monitoring programme. In its latest report the European Commission was still only moderately enthusiastic about progress. The monitoring may be discontinued this year. That would definitely be a premature step.”

Ziare (RO) /

Power of PSD chief Dragnea waning

At stake here is not only the Social Democrats' hold on power but also the career of the party's leader Dragnea, who is seens as the mastermind behind the controversial decree, Ziare comments:

“Liviu Dragnea's weak point is that now his power is waning within his own party. No sooner had the party begun to govern than it feels blocked and boycotted. The boycott and blockade come from an opposition that isn't buoyed up by other parties but by huge numbers of demonstrators. To win back his own party and dispel doubts about his own capabilities the Social Democratic leader must reestablish calm and make it tempting for every single party member to remain in power. The time has come for Dragnea to show whether he possesses the intuition of a true politician or whether he only knows how to motivate his own party members when the time comes to vote.”

Adevărul (RO) /

Government must regain people's trust

Despite the withdrawal of the decree around half a million people demonstrated on Romania's streets on Sunday. The government needs to regain the people's trust, Liviu Avram writes in Adevărul:

“There is zero trust in the words and actions of this government. It has lied so often and so perversely throughout the crisis that there can be only one conclusion: it cannot continue this way over the next four years. We will live in fear that a similar decree could come at any moment. New elections would be a good solution now, but the constitution is so cumbersome on this point and such a broad political consensus would be required that only a miracle could bring about a fresh election. The solution of restoring at least a minimum of trust lies in the hands of the government. … It could add the following rule to the law that regulates the government's work: The government cannot issue any decrees that affect criminal prosecution.”

Financial Times (GB) /

Not out of the woods yet

Romania may follow Hungary and Poland on the path to illiberal democracy even though the decrees have been withdrawn, Finacial Times warns:

“The PSD's actions have flagged up the risks of Romania joining the broader reversal of post-communist progress on rule of law in central Europe. Fortunately, the robust response of Romanians themselves, including the principled stand of President Iohannis, who joined the protests, has stopped the government in its tracks on this issue. Romanians need to remain vigilant to ensure that the decrees are not reintroduced in some other form, and that the government does not erode other democratic checks and balances. Bucharest's friends and allies, including the US, should maintain the combination of encouragement of reforms and pressure to avoid reversals that has achieved results. That way, Romania may yet avoid going down the path of some of its neighbours.”

Le Monde (FR) /

Corruption creating a counter-movement

The people will rise up against their deceitful politicians not just in Romania but across the globe, Le Monde predicts:

“As far as questions of ethics are concerned there isn't much difference between the middle class of the US or France and that of Romania or Iceland. One of these days they will also realise that corruption is theft. That things that are not necessarily illegal are still bad, including the strange habit of employing family members at institutions that are anything but family businesses. That those who promised to take care of the middle class have betrayed it. And then the leaders will be in trouble, and because they have underestimated the distrust they have created among the voters they will become the next target of this devastating movement.”

Der Standard (AT) /

Brussels no longer the big bogeyman

Romania's government wanted to rebel against Brussels but now it is having to confront its own citizens, Der Standard observes:

“The European Commission's report on Romania's progress in the fight against corruption is barely a week old. … The answer from Bucharest: the decriminalisation of certain abuses of office - by government decree, without consulting parliament. The government could hardly have given Brussels the finger more clearly. However, it forgot to factor its own citizens into the equation. They have gathered for the biggest mass protests since the fall of communism and they know they have President Klaus Iohannis on their side. Support for the government is crumbling even within its own ranks. Corruption in Romania is therefore no longer just a European policy issue, but above all an issue for Romania. The 'Bucharest vs. Brussels' match in which it was easy to frame criticism of the country's elites as an attack on patriotic sentiment has been cancelled for now.”

Polityka (PL) /

The citizens must make themselves heard

The protests come as no surprise for Agnieszka Mazurczyk on her blog with Polityka:

“The Romanians have already been angry for a year now. Their frustration is growing. And this is not the first time they have vented it on the street. … Not long ago the 'Save Romania Union' (USR) was founded - a party that opposes the establishment. It represents the educated voters of the big cities, came third in the last elections and is gaining more and more support. But all that is likely to be too little to really change things in Romania. For that to happen the Romanians themselves must take action. They must ensure that people really listen to their protests and achieve tangible results.”

Jurnalul National (RO) /

President using guerilla warfare tactics

President Klaus Iohannis is fuelling the tensions in the opinion of the pro-government paper Jurnalul National:

“Instead of promoting normal political relations based on the constitution Iohannis has opted for a course of confrontation to which [PSD leader] Liviu Dragnea and [Alde leader Calin] Tariceanu must react. Iohannis knows precisely how to steer their political actions into the arena where he is most adept. He has become the Facebook president. The Internet is full of primitive commentators who reject all rational dialogue on political issues. The [ruling] PSD is being attacked with explosive slogans like 'red plague'. … The networks that are mobilising people to take part in spontaneous meetings are highly organised on online platforms and financed by NGOs with their own ideologies. … The PSD doesn't know how to wage guerrilla warfare. After winning the elections by a clear margin it is unable to implement its government programme because Iohannis has set up traps for it at every turn.”

Hotnews (RO) /

Country ruled by criminals

In Romania a criminal organisation is attacking the rule of law, warns news website Hotnews:

“If the emergency decrees aren't withdrawn within the next few days the consequences will be catastrophic. … Countless investigations against important people suspected of abuse of office would be dropped. And in the long term the repercussions would be far greater. We are reverting to the state of affairs ten to fifteen years ago, to the times when plundering went on all the time and no one batted an eyelid, when politicians were above the law and didn't fear justice. We are taking the biggest step backwards in democratic terms since the start of the 1990s. … [After the parliamentary elections] we claimed that we were immune to extremism and aggressive nationalism. But we are haunted by even worse spectres than those that are spooling the Western world right now: here in Romania an organised group of criminals is taking control of the rule of law, the media and the basic infrastructure.”

Ziare (RO) /

Protests uphold dignity of the Romanian people

Several thousand people gathered in front of the seat of government after the emergency decrees were issued late on Tuesday evening. Marius Doroftei of the news website Ziare sees this spontaneous midnight protest as a historical event:

“If there is something good about this national scandal it is the citizens' stance. I can't remember any other instance of thousands of people taking to the streets in Romania to demonstrate against a law that is very abstract and that is more about the principles of the rule of law than about the individual interests of citizens. … This protest will go down in history, it stands for the dignity of the Romanian people, who have reacted to injustice on their own initiative. But I fear that this civil awareness comes too late. The approval of the decrees is a decisive attack on democracy. The current government has shown through this move that it has no respect for the rule of law.”