It is perhaps the most diversified demonstration ever seen in Romania. As much for the variety of the participants (pensioners, students, revolutionaries, intellectuals, the unemployed, football fans, singers, etc.), as by their demands and complaints which concern salaries, pensions, the circulation tax, the dismantling of political parties, the exploitation of gold on Roşia Montană, independence from international finance, or the resignation of President Traian Băsescu. But there is one common denominator: outrage.

The diversity of the type of demonstrators implies a similar behavioural diversity. Unlike April 1990 [when demonstrations were stopped due to violent clashes with miners brought in from Valea Jiului by the government of then-president, Ion Iliescu] University Square in Bucharest is today no longer peopled mostly by intellectuals with their civic conscience and their art of dialogue as cultivated in learned symposia.

These days, among the rebels, one finds those living on the fringe of society, youth gangs – they too are malcontent at not finding work, at the lowering of social protection, at the rising cost of living, at the fact that the police protects loan sharks and pimps but rakes them over the coals at the slightest blunder. Whether one likes it or not, they too are part of civil society.

Violence is repugnant to us all

For them, confrontation signifies, for the most part, causing the most possible damage to the enemy, to spit in his eye, to punch him in the solar plexus. They have always broken the glass out of the bus stops, not necessarily because these belong to the 'State', but simply because it was dark and no one could see them.

A good number of them are also football supporters. They go wild because they have always needed an outlet for their gregarious personalities; because it is easy for them to divide the world between "us" and the enemy; because, in any case, they have no other form of entertainment.

But these are not the reasons that pushed them onto University Square. They are here because they can shout their exasperation as they please; because, finally, they have found a place among those that usually reject them; because they hope, as we all do, that something in their lives will change.

Recently, the protesters fraternised with the police; opponents with pro-government forces; the journalists of Antena 3 television with their competitors of B1. With everyone except the rioters. The demonstrators that spoke to the cameras were careful to mention that they were protesting peacefully. Violence is repugnant to us all.

"Let them stew in their own juices"

But violence is more than just ripping cobblestones from the streets and throwing them at the police. Violence can also be imposing an electoral law without presenting valid arguments and without public debate. Or lowering the salaries of those who do an honest day's work. Or even the destruction of buildings that are part of Romania's heritage. If the search for violence is restricted to the side of the rioters, then the fundamental sense of protest has been lost.

It seems that the rioters were identified, arrested and isolated. The protests, are now, finally peaceful. The police are monitoring all the suspects and are arresting with a vengeance (113 arrests on Monday, January 16). As for the government, it says it fully understands the complaints of the demonstrators and says it recognises their respect of the democratic right to demonstrate in designated areas.

But its behaviour has not changed one iota. It is, so it would seem, waiting for a heaven-sent blast of blizzard, or of weariness, to chase the demonstrators from the square. This solution sounds very familiar. "Let them stew in their own juices," Ion Iliescu said during the 1990 demonstrations.

But this is a risky strategy. When the people understand that showing their exasperation symbolically is not enough, they may not be totally worn out. But they will feel marginalised and they too will move to the fringe; creating yet more rioters for the police to inventory.