2012–14 unrest in Romania
|2012–14 unrest in Romania|
|Date||12 January 2012–present (2 years, 8 months and 8 days)|
|Location||Dozens of cities in Romania and Romanian diaspora|
|Parties to the civil conflict|
Since January 2012, Romania is experiencing a wave of civil unrest, mass demonstrations and political disputes.
- 1 Background
- 2 Timeline of the events
- 2.1 Mid-January 2012 riots
- 2.2 2012 political crisis
- 2.3 2013 social protests
- 2.4 Protests against the Roșia Montană Project
- 2.5 Resistance against shale gas
- 2.6 „Black Tuesday” and subsequent protests
- 2.7 2014 political tensions
- 3 References
Romania is the country with the highest poverty levels in the European Union. More than 30% of the population lives on less than $5 per day. In a report conducted by the Presidential Commission for the Analysis of Social and Demographic Risks is specified that there are visible discrepancies between social strata, privileged groups benefiting of higher wages and pensions in comparison with the rest of the population. Bankruptcy of many companies thickens the unemployment rate, in July 2013 reaching the value of 7.6%, highest since onset of the economic crisis in 2010. Other companies, including state companies – Romanian Post, Romanian Railways, are on the verge of bankruptcy, being forced to make cutbacks.
After application of drastic austerity measures in 2010, the Romanian economy recovered. Thus, in 2013, Romania recorded the highest economic growth in the EU. Despite this growth, the standard of living is decreasing, many Romanians being unable to endure everyday expenses. Poor working conditions, mass layoffs and tax hikes displease the population that is filling the squares of main cities to shout their grievances.
Over the past 25 years, Romania has experienced a complex process of democratization with moments of crisis, economic stagnation, radical nationalism and extreme polarization. Despite Romania's admission into NATO in 2004, and into the European Union in 2007, the political situation remained unstable, with recurrent institutional clashes between the President, Prime Minister and Parliament, such as in 2007 and 2012 and tough austerity measures that fuelled social tensions.
Timeline of the events
Mid-January 2012 riots
These were the first events of the two-year civil unrest. They were triggered by the introduction of a new health reform legislation and worsening standard of life. President Traian Băsescu's popularity collapsed mainly after imposing austerity measures in 2010, year when Romania also confronted with short living but large street demonstrations. The attempted privatization of SMURD and the denigration by Traian Băsescu of Raed Arafat, its founder, was vehemently criticized by people on the streets.
The protests started with a 3,000-large demonstration in Târgu Mureș on 12 January, as a sign of solidarity with Raed Arafat. In the following weeks, protests spread to other sixty Romanian cities and dozens of cities in the Romanian diaspora. In Bucharest, the largest protest took place on 19 January, when up to 20,000 people expressed their disagreements with Băsescu regime. Several days, Bucharest faced widespread rioting and acts of vandalism. Thousands of policemen and gendarmes were deployed on the streets to confront angry demonstrators that stoned the vehicles of the law enforcers, vandalized shops and burned cars. Riot police used tear gas and flares to repel demonstrators who blocked traffic in the center of Bucharest. According to the Gendarmerie, destructions were caused by football ultras infiltrated among peaceful demonstrators. During these days of turmoil, several protesters entered the Romanian Television headquarters to blame the broadcaster for censorship. Official figures indicated over 60 injuries during clashes between police and protesters, while up to 283 arrests were made. Several journalists were injured while transmitting live the events. South East Europe Media Organisation, a NGO that has its headquarters in Vienna, expressed concern about the level of violence against reporters who covered the protests.
On the morning of 6 February 2012, Prime Minister Emil Boc announced his resignation, in an attempt „to ease the social situation”. During weeks of protests, Băsescu stated nothing and didn't appear in public. Emil Boc was replaced by Mihai Răzvan Ungureanu, former Director of the Foreign Intelligence Service.
2012 political crisis
Soon after government led by Mihai Răzvan Ungureanu fell in no confidence vote, Victor Ponta took in office. Ponta is an ardent Băsescu's opponent. In June 2012, they were the protagonists of a major political crisis, starting with conflicting views on Romania's representative to the European Council reunion of 28 June and escalating with the suspension of President Traian Băsescu. In the same period, Prime Minister Victor Ponta was accused of plagiarism in his doctoral thesis. These accusations fed the political instability.
On 3 July, the Romanian Parliament, at the proposal of majority represented by Social Liberal Union, voted the dismissal of President of the Senate and President of the Chamber of Deputies. Through an Emergency Ordinance, the government restricted the attributions of the Constitutional Court, restoring them to the 2010 status. Likewise, USL leaders Victor Ponta and Crin Antonescu started procedures to dismiss President Traian Băsescu. These measures irritated the international politicians which expressed concerns over the state of democracy and the rule of law in Romania. On 6 July, Băsescu was suspended after the impeachment motion filed by the ruling coalition passed the Parliament's vote. The motion passed with 256 votes, 39 more than the minimum required. USL leaders argued their action by saying that President Traian Băsescu has breached the Constitution and overstepped his authority.
On 9 July, the Constitutional Court ascertained President Băsescu's suspension and confirmed Crin Antonescu as Interim President. Therewith, Constitutional Court rejected complaints formulated by Vasile Blaga and Roberta Anastase, supported by PDL, regarding removal from office of President of the Senate and President of the Chamber of Deputies. On 20 July, USL laid down, at the Office of the High Court of Cassation and Justice, a penal complaint against suspended President Traian Băsescu and other 14 people, for „spreading false information, for defamation of the country and the nation and for endangering safety of the national economy and currency stability”, given that Băsescu cataloged the events as a „coup d'état”. In the following days, Crin Antonescu cut Băsescu's special phone line, after the Senate's Defence Committee found out that the Special Telecommunication Agency illegally deployed the secret phone line at Băsescu's office. Băsescu accused USL of dismantling all national security institutions and cataloged them as „a gang of traitors”.
The presidential impeachment referendum took place on 29 July. On 21 August, the Constitutional Court decided that the referendum is invalid due to presence under 50%. However, 87.52% of those present in the referendum voted for Băsescu's impeachment. PDL boycotted the referendum, while the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán exhorted ethnic Hungarians in Romania to stay away from the polls, fact that explains the low turnout in Hungarian majority counties of Harghita and Covasna. There were rumors regarding vote rigging. In October 2013, Deputy Prime Minister Liviu Dragnea and 74 others were accused of falsifying data to sway the vote's outcome.
The summer of 2012 in Romania was marked not only by political instability, but by civil unrest. In early July, on the background of plagiarism scandal, demonstrations took place in several locations in Bucharest. The demonstrations, entitled suggestively the Protest of inverted commas (Romanian: Protestul ghilimelelor), were attended by hundreds of people, among them former Prime Minister Ungureanu, aiming Victor Ponta's resignation.
In the pre-referendum period, several demonstrations in support of President Traian Băsescu took place throughout the country. In Arad and Timișoara, clashes between pro- and anti-Băsescu demonstrators erupted, but were quickly dispersed by gendarmes. On 6 July, 2,000 people gathered at a rally in Bucharest to support President Băsescu. The rally was attended by prominent members of PDL and degenerated towards evening in altercations with anti-Băsescu demonstrators that infiltrated among supporters of the president.
Major political rallies were organized by USL in the most important cities in the country, within the campaign to dismiss the suspended president: Bucharest (50,000 participants, 26 July), Craiova (18,000 participants, 20 July), Iași (15,000 participants, 22 July), Oradea (8,000 participants, 24 July), Pitești (7,000 participants, 25 July), Brașov (5,000 participants, 17 July), Alexandria (1,500 participants, 25 July) and Râmnicu Vâlcea (700 participants, 27 July). On the other side, large pro-Băsescu meetings were organized in several Romanian cities, at different dates, to avoid potential conflicts between demonstrators: Bucharest (15,000 participants), Iași (10,000 participants), Cluj-Napoca (10,000 participants), Slatina (100 participants).
Invalidation of the referendum infuriated Băsescu's opposers that gathered in their thousands in front of the Bucharest National Theatre. Protesters shouted messages against CCR decision to invalidate the referendum and asked Traian Băsescu to resign. Likewise, many people have come up with anti-US placards, considering that Băsescu was reinstated at Americans desire. Towards evening things got out of control, people breached fences and entered on the carriageway, blocking traffic. Next day, the Gendarmerie fined or queried 106 people for disturbing public peace and destruction of public domain.
Worsening working conditions, mass layoffs and poor payroll have taken to the streets thousands of employees even in the early days of 2013. Probably the most dramatic and publicized cases is Oltchim Râmnicu Vâlcea, one of the largest chemical companies in Romania. The company recorded losses of €90.3 million in the fourth quarter of 2011, thus ending the year with a negative result of 270 million lei. The company's leadership was forced to reduce expenses and liabilities, even without announcing employees. The deplorable situation of the company triggered mass unrest, also fueled by several failed attempts to privatize the plant. Protests took place throughout the year, one of the largest being organized on 28 March, when nearly 1,500 employees refused to start work and blocked the traffic on national road DN64. The unrest escalated with the storming of company's headquarters on 4 July, while in the subsequent months, some employees launched a hunger strike.
The deplorable situation of the national railway company took to the streets thousands of employees under the threat of job loss or salary reduction. In 2013 and 2014, the company was shaken by two major strikes. On 16 January 2013, thousands of employees triggered a spontaneous strike, 138 trains being blocked for several hours in major railway stations in the country, including Bucharest, Craiova, Cluj-Napoca, Iași, Galați and Constanța. The Minister of Transport Relu Fenechiu said that he will make an analysis and those responsible will pay.
A larger strike took place on 23 April 2014, when, for two hours, rail traffic was paralyzed in major train stations in the country. According to syndicalists, the protest took place after failed negotiations on a new collective agreement. About 400 passenger trains and 200 freight trains stood in the stations or on route.
Protests of teachers and students
Protests and strikes were launched by teachers and students throughout the year, centered mainly on Ponta's poor policies regarding education. They claim that the education system is underfunded and require allocation of at least 6% of GDP to education. High school students also protested for bad settlement of commuting subscriptions.
On 21 May, over 2,000 students in Covasna County went on Japanese strike, inasmuch as the Ministry of Education hasn't settled, since October 2012, money for commuting subscriptions. Those 2,000 students that went on Japanese strike, wearing white banderoles on arm, are from 15 high schools in the cities of Sfântu Gheorghe, Târgu Secuiesc, Covasna and Baraolt. Furthermore, students in Covasna organized a protest meeting. The Ministry of Education has accumulated, from October to March, a debt of more than 1.6 million lei for settlement of students commuting subscriptions in Covasna County. Likewise, around 150 students from high schools throughout the Mureș County went on indefinitely Japanese strike, in solidarity with the colleagues which were not settled money for commuting subscriptions. The same measure of protest was adopted by hundreds of students in Constanța County, according to that were violated the rights under the Education Act through art. 84 (3). In Cluj County, Ministry of Education didn't settle any money for seven months. Accumulated debts amount to more than 3.5 million lei, 3,100 commuter students being affected by this situation.
On 13 November, thousands of students from 11 universities in Bucharest, Timișoara, Cluj-Napoca, Iași, Constanța, Galați, Baia Mare, Sibiu, Suceava, Oradea and Alba Iulia took to the streets to protest the underfunding of the education system. In solidarity with the students, pupils from dozens of schools and high schools went on Japanese strike. Students chanted slogans against the Government and demanded allocation of 6% of GDP for education: „We want a school for all, not a Government of mobsters”, „Finance the education or leave the Government”. According to the Romanian press, the event is one of the largest student movements in recent years.
Teachers' wages is a problem wherewith the education system confronts. In Romania, a teacher is paid 9.3 lei net (2.09 euros) per hour, compared to other European countries, where wages are up to 40 times higher. These disparities have sparked teachers' dissatisfactions. Thus, teachers and education syndicates have taken a number of measures to „wake” the attention of those governing the country.
Situation in hospitals, poor payroll and lack of staff pushed the doctors to launch an ample program of protests aimed to alarm the minister Eugen Nicolăescu over collapse of Romanian health system. In September were held for two weeks picketings in front of the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Finance. The protests are the largest since 1998 and are known in local media as Protest of white robes (Romanian: Protestul halatelor albe).
On 2 November, nearly 7,000 doctors, nurses and dentists marched on Victory Avenue, towards the Palace of the Parliament. The manifestation, called March of Silence (Romanian: Marșul Tăcerii), was joined by medical staff across the country. Demonstrators leaned against the wall of the Palace of the Parliament a cross and nearly 20 wreaths, thus suggesting the „death of health” in Romania.
After three rounds of failed negotiations with the Minister of Health, on 25 November, more than 130,000 health professionals from across the country have triggered a warning strike between 8 and 10 o'clock. During this time, polyclinics were closed, and hospitals operated only in medical emergencies. Marius Sepi, first vice-president of Sanitas Federation, stated that the strike was affected by some hospital managers that threatened the protesters. Even the Minister of Health, Eugen Nicolăescu, considered the strike illegal and said he didn't know if it's possible to increase wages.
Despite major changes on Romanian political scene in early 2014, the new health minister could not cope with the demands of health professionals. In this regard, doctors picketed between 23 June and 4 July the headquarters of Ministry of Health, Ministry of Labour and Ministry of Public Finance.
Duty of 7 cents
There was a rough dispute between President Băsescu and Premier Ponta on fuel price rise by 7 cents, measure adopted since 1 April 2014. The head of state asked Victor Ponta to waive the fee he deems an unnecessary and discriminatory tax burden. Likewise, Traian Băsescu is convinced that the measure will lead to tax evasion. The measure was also criticized by opposition. Thus, on 15 March, between 8,000 and 10,000 people, members or supporters of the People's Movement Party, protested in Bucharest's George Enescu Square against Ponta's poor economic policies and wave of taxes that will be introduced once with 1 April. Romania figures among the countries with the most expensive gasoline in the world, at $7.38 per gallon (€1.41 per litre).
Protests related to fuel overtaxing also took place a few months before the implementation of this measure. On 9 December 2013, over 86,000 lorry drivers across the country went on strike and blocked for several hours the traffic on ring roads of major cities.
Protests against the Roșia Montană Project
The Roșia Montană Project, a mining project aimed to bring to the surface 350 tonnes of gold and 1,500 tonnes of silver, met a significant resistance from environmental groups in Romania and neighbouring countries. Among the dissatisfactions of environmentalists are the pollution by cyanidation and the extremely low percentage of which Romania will benefit from this exploitation. A concern was the fact that the legislation would give the Roșia Montană Gold Corporation the right to give compulsory purchase orders to the residents of Roșia Montană who refused to sell their houses and lands. The draft law also sets time limits for the state authorities to grant all permits, regardless of potential infringements of national legislation or of court rulings.
The wave of protests started on 1 September 2013 with a national mobilization and continued until late-December. The protests attracted up to 200,000 demonstrators in 50 Romanian cities and 30 cities in Romanian diaspora. Largest demonstrations were organized in Bucharest (20,000 people), Cluj-Napoca (10,000 people), Câmpeni (4,000 people), Iași (1,500 people) and Brașov (900 people). In Bucharest, Timișoara and Iași, protesters created „tent cities”, paralyzing traffic on major arteries of circulation. The protests, dubbed by international media the Romanian Autumn, have taken many forms: human chains around the Palace of the Parliament, flash mobs, roadblocks and scuffles with police. Although the protests were mainly peaceful, there were reports of serious incidents. On 13 September, Minister of Culture Daniel Barbu was attacked with tomatoes in Cluj-Napoca. In November, protesters in Bucharest, Brașov and Cluj-Napoca were aggressed and sprayed with irritant substances by gendarmes, in the capital 62 people being fined for blocking traffic. Likewise, on 9 December, about 50 Greenpeace activists from 10 countries who were protesting in the courtyard of the Parliament building, were seized by gendarmes and led to the police stations. Protesters also accused the poor coverage of the protests by Romanian media.
There were also protests in support of the mining project. Organized only in the exploitation area, the largest protest attracted up to 5,000 locals and 33 miners blocked underground, who were fighting for the jobs promised by Roșia Montană Gold Corporation, inasmuch as the unemployment rate in the area is very high. In an attempt to defuse the tense situation of Roșia Montană, Prime Minister Victor Ponta descended into the underground to discuss with miners. However, during massive protests against Roșia Montană Project, Ponta – main target of protests – didn't conduct any conversation with the representatives of the protesters.
Resistance against shale gas
„Black Tuesday” and subsequent protests
The Chamber of Deputies passed, on 10 December 2013, a draft law containing multiple amendments to the Penal Code, which would grant „super-immunity” to MPs and the president, as they would be taken out of the „public servant” category stipulated in the Code. Moreover, the amendments would protect politicians from the investigation of bodies of anti-corruption struggle (National Anticorruption Directorate, National Integrity Agency) and would remove the conflict of interest from the list of misdemeanors. After the Romanian Parliament passed the amendments, media outlets marked the day as the „Black Tuesday” of Romanian democracy.
On 14 December, nearly 1,500 people attended a meeting organized by People's Movement Party, in sign of protest against new Penal Code. The next day, a similar protest took place in Bucharest and was attended by more than 2,000 people. Unlike the previous, this was more violent. A large number of police forces were deployed on the spot. They formed cordons to prevent protesters moving towards the Government headquarters. Angry crowd broke the cordons, and gendarmes used tear gas to avoid blocking traffic. After the altercations, four protesters were seized by gendarmes and taken to the police station. They were questioned and fined for disturbing public peace and order. One of the protesters was transported to the Floreasca Hospital with a wound to the head. On 21 December, more than 5,000 people attended a protest in Bucharest against all political classes and new Penal Code. The protest was held under the slogan 21-22 we want the democracy back (Romanian: 21-22 vrem democrația înapoi). Mobilized on social networks, protesters demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Victor Ponta and President Traian Băsescu, but also the dissolution of Parliament. Throughout the protest, demonstrators lit candles in memory of victims of the 1989 Revolution. There were deployed hundreds of henchmen, equipped for intervention, with batons and tear gas guns, vans and water cannons. Protesters threw stones and bottles at vehicles of the Gendarmerie and accused the gendarmes of defending thievery.
Amendments to the Penal Code were strongly contested by President Traian Băsescu, who said that he will return to the Parliament the law through which the president and MPs are removed from the category of civil servants. The Head of State said that the amendments to the Penal Code adopted by the Chamber are „dramatic” and „tear down ten years of work and activity of anticorruption institutions” such as National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) or National Integrity Agency (ANI). The President mentioned in a TV show about the dissolution of Parliament, invoking the breach of the Copenhagen criteria through these amendments to the Penal Code.
The National Anticorruption Directorate showed that, following the changes to the Penal Code, lawmakers indicted for corruption or similar to that misdemeanor might be acquitted, and those detained through final sentence might be set free. President of the National Integrity Agency, Horia Georgescu, also said that, following the changes, „will be created a super-immunity”, and „the history of ANI cases will be thrown up for 25 MPs”.
The Superior Council of Magistracy has criticized changes to the Penal Code, emphasizing that it hadn't receive them for approval, as required by law. Legal Committee of the Chamber of Deputies said in a statement that it had no obligation to seek the opinion of SCM.
The Democratic Liberal Party submitted, on 12 December, to the Constitutional Court, two notices about the changes adopted Tuesday by the Chamber of Deputies to the Penal Code, one aimed at defining civil servant and the other one referring to the conflict of interest. Likewise, the High Court of Cassation and Justice notified the Constitutional Court on the same subject. The concerns expressed by about 50 PDL lawmakers were confirmed by the Constitutional Court of Romania. So, on 15 January 2014, the members of the Constitutional Court unanimously decided that the amendments to the Penal Code are unconstitutional. CCR judges decided that the article which removes the officials from the category of public servants breaches several articles of the Constitution concerning the rule of law, the equal rights of citizens and the Romanian State's obligation to fulfill in good faith its obligations in international treaties.
In a press conference, PSD deputy Eugen Nicolicea rejected accusations on new Penal Code, saying that press masked the truth.
- In a meeting of the Chamber of Deputies, U.S. Embassy sent a very harsh reaction to the changes of the Penal Code. „This action of Parliament represents a departure from the principles of transparency and the rule of law and is a discouraging signal to investors, that will adversely affect the economy of Romania”. The U.S. Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Daniel B. Baer, said, on 20 December, that the United States are concerned about the recent amendments to the Penal Code and warned that ratification of these amendments will result in weakening the rule of law in Romania.
- Similar reactions also came from the European Commission. The European Commission warns that public officials, regardless of the institution they work for, must obey rules against conflict of interest and corruption. „This change was not raised at any time. From our point of view, it's a decision that we didn't expect”, said Mark Stephen Gray, spokesman for the European Commission.
- British Ambassador to Bucharest, Martin Harris, says he is „worried” for changes to the Penal Code. „It is very discouraging that these changes were adopted without any consultation, any debate and any opportunity for the representatives of the judiciary authority and members of civil society to comment about the proposed amendments”, shows the reaction of the embassy.
- The German Embassy took a stand against the amendments to the Penal Code, announcing that seeks „with attention and concern the current legislative measures”.
- The Netherlands Embassy in Bucharest stated that seeks with concern the amendments to the Penal Code and expects the future developments.
- Hannes Swoboda, the leader of the Socialists in the European Parliament, stated for Radio France Internationale that the amendments to the Penal Code contravene the values of the EU and is a real step backwards for the country.
- In a press release, Transparency International demands the immediate repeal of legal changes granting immunity to Romanian politicians. According to the organization, „these developments risk opening the door for corrupt politicians to act with impunity”.
2014 political tensions
In mid-February 2014, the Romanian government entered into deadlock after PNL, constituent party of the government, announced the reshuffling of four ministers. Victor Ponta repeatedly refused Klaus Iohannis' proposal as Deputy Premier and Minister of Interior, fact that inflamed the spirits inside PNL. Thus, on 25 February, PNL decided in an overwhelming majority to leave the ruling coalition. A day later, all PNL ministers resigned.
A major political conflict also erupted in August, when the Parliament adopted an emergency ordinance allowing local authorities to switch between political parties without sanctions. The event, marked in Romanian press as „Black Thursday” – in analogy with „Black Tuesday”, was criticized by embassies of United States and United Kingdom, but especially by opposition that accuses Victor Ponta of trying to defraud presidential election in November, reason for that the Liberal Christian Alliance, supported by the People's Movement Party, threatens the government with a motion of censure. According to those who initiated this law, the party switching is a solution to institutional stalemate after breakage of the USL in February.
„War of the palaces”
Known in Romanian press as War of the palaces (Romanian: Războiul dintre palate) is a prolonged conflict between President Traian Băsescu and Prime Minister Victor Ponta, the representatives of Cotroceni Palace and Victoria Palace, respectively. In April 2014, conflict between the two has deepened and escalated to threats of imprisonment from both of them. President Traian Băsescu said that if Victor Ponta will try to interfere in the justice risks ending up in the hands of prosecutors, who will not tolerate that. He also stated that Ponta is deeply corrupt, and his election as president would be a great drama for Romania. In reply, Victor Ponta stated: „(...) I am absolutely convinced that Traian Băsescu will go to jail. I, who know that I have always respected the law, I have no fear”.
In a TV show, President Traian Băsescu reacted to declarations of PSD senator, Gabriela Firea, stating: „She better stays in her seat and would handle what happens on the estate of her husband. Because she could no longer find him at home, if she is not careful. I understand that in his parish enough bad things happen”. Victor Ponta quickly reacted to these statements by drawing up a penal complaint against President Traian Băsescu. In this complaint, the President is accused of blackmail and threat. European Socialist leader Sergey Stanishev condemned the statements made by Traian Băsescu, claiming that declarations to Gabriela Firea are provocative and inflammatory, and the suggestion that her husband could „disappear” is beyond the limits of decency.
After the scandal of Mehedinți County Council Chairman, Adrian Duicu, where prosecutors say Duicu made influence peddling from Victor Ponta's office at Victoria Palace, in the presence of Interior Minister Radu Stroe, the Premier decided to move his office to the Ministry of National Defence, with „military security”. Victor Ponta vehemently denied his involvement in this case, claiming that this scandal is only a frame-up. Journalists criticized the stultification of the scandal involving Prime Minister Victor Ponta, accusing him that he tries to move the discussion from concrete facts reported by DNA prosecutors in the plan of political conflict with Traian Băsescu and „press staging”. Victor Ponta's movement from the Victoria Palace to the Ministry of Defence was also criticized by PNL President Crin Antonescu, claiming that the Prime Minister „has lost control” and „mocks the country's institutions”.