Romania's "Indignados", at University Square, Bucharest

Who are the Indignados of Bucharest?

Thousands of people from all walks of life have been demonstrating all week in Bucharest as well as all over the country against both austerity measures and a political system gangrened by corruption. It is about time that the government took their complaints seriously, warns Romanian sociologist Mircea Kivu.

Published on 19 January 2012 at 16:20
Romania's "Indignados", at University Square, Bucharest

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.

Receive the best of European journalism straight to your inbox every Thursday

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.

Vox populi

“All rotten!”

“No one in power or in the opposition has the trust of the population,” affirms the front page of Evenimentul Zilei, which reports on the high “level of dissatisfaction” with the country’s politicians. Whether it be in the legendary University Square - the focal point for Romanian revolutions and in particular the 1989 uprising against Nicolae Ceausescu - or elsewhere in the country, “protestors are putting equals signs between USL [the left-wing opposition Socialist Liberal Union] and the PD-L [the Democratic Liberal Party in power,]” writes EVZ.

Dissatisfaction with the PDL has mainly been prompted by harsh austerity measures the party has imposed on the country, while the opposition is paying the price for “internal scandals, which have eroded the trust of the electorate, and a discourse that is no longer in tune with the priorities of the population,”reports the newspaper on a day (19 January) when the opposition called for mass demonstrations against Emil Boc’s government.

President Trajan Basescu, on the other hand, does not have to fear for his job: as Frankfurter Rundschau explains:

Demonstrators should not hope for support from Brussels, because his austerity policy has ensured that the Bucharest autocrat is still well-regarded in Europe, and his current mandate — which in accordance with the constitution will be his last — is set to run until 2014. However, that is not to say that his power will then be at an end: his nickname “Putinescu” suggests that there may be worse to come.

Was this article useful? If so we are delighted! It is freely available because we believe that the right to free and independent information is essential for democracy. But this right is not guaranteed forever, and independence comes at a cost. We need your support in order to continue publishing independent, multilingual news for all Europeans. Discover our membership offers and their exclusive benefits and become a member of our community now!

Are you a news organisation, a business, an association or a foundation? Check out our bespoke editorial and translation services.

Support independent European journalism

European democracy needs independent media. Join our community!

On the same topic