This past week, Romanians took to the streets to protest a judicial reform they believe would allow corruption to go unpunished.
The nuances of the reform are complicated, but according to Digi24 News Editor Carmen Constantin, the protesters’ motivations are simple: “They want people who are corrupt to be punished for it.”
Public outrage first broke out in Romania back in early February 2017, when the ruling government coalition announced the introduction of a decree that would essentially grant amnesty to corrupt officials charged with taking bribes. The government argued that overcrowding in prisons was one of the reasons for implementing the decree, however, protesters saw this a major setback for the country’s anti-corruption efforts.
The February protests were largely successful. The then justice minister Florin Iordache, who was also one of the officials responsible for introducing the decree, resigned and the decree itself was rescinded.
However, shortly after resigning, Iordache was then appointed head of the Special Parliamentary Commission on the Justice package, which is responsible for legislative reform, including the judicial reform that has sparked this latest round of protests.
Protesters are now calling for the dismissal of Liviu Dragnea, the leader of Romania's ruling Social Democrats Party. He was one of the corrupt officials who stood to benefit from the decree that triggered protests in February.
Hromadske spoke to Digi24 News Editor Carmen Constantin via Skype to find out why thousands of Romanians have taken to the streets once again and what this means for country’s fight against corruption.
What were the events that led to these mass protests?
Well, there are people right now in the streets of Bucharest who are asking for the resignation of the government — the resignation of the main governing party's leader Liviu Dragnea who's accused of corruption deed. And people are very upset about the judicial laws, which are now being discussed in the Parliament, because they are apparently going to make it easier for crooked politicians to avoid prison. And people are obviously not very keen on letting that happen.
But why are people suspicious of the reform? Why do they think that this is a ploy by the government?
Because this is basically the same thing that was going to happen back in February, even though there are the same people who are trying to pull this off. Because there is this party leader Liviu Dragnea, who’s very powerful, very influential in Romania. And he’s the head of the governing party here in Bucharest and the Justice Minister Florin Iordache who was forced to resign by the protests back in the beginning of the year is now head of a special commission, as it is called, in the parliament whose main mission is to discuss the judicial laws which are having basically the same point as the emergency ordinance — the number 13 emergency ordinance — that was going to push the same sort of so-called reform back at the beginning of the year. So it is the same problem with the same people, and the people are again in the streets.
Obviously, they cool down after such a long period, as the protests were continuing from January to March and then eight months of intermission. Why continue now?
Because this kind of legislation was, as one of the main political leaders for the Social Democrats here in Romania said, discussed and forgotten at some point. Obviously, as the inquiries — the judicial inquiries against the politicians are getting closer to these guys, and they are really menaced by them right now. Menaced in terms that they are facing prison penalties if they are found guilty, and the prosecutor's case seemed very strong. So as this is unfolding, the politicians didn't just lay it back on this; they are trying again to push the same reforms, as they call it, so they can stay in power and not get into jail.
And finally, why is corruption the word now in Romania for protesters?
Because there are corruption deeds that these politicians are accused of, and people are really. I mean, the fight against corruption in Romania is not a new thing; it lasts for about let's say 15 years, if not more. And up until probably ten years ago, there was – if you were powerful enough in Romania — you could almost get away with anything. This is no longer the case. Right now, with the anti-corruption prosecutor's office — which is very efficient, they have over 90% percent of the cases convicted. So right now, when they are looking into the dealing of these politicians and people see that there is a piece of legislation trying to stop the prosecutors from doing their job, people no longer want to get into that situation when you could get away with almost anything in Romania. They want people who are corrupt to be punished for it. It's that simple.
/By Tanya Bednarchyk and Sofia Fedeczko