Upwards of a quarter of a million Romanians have taken to the streets in record breaking numbers to protest the country’s corrupt politicians. For the first time since the fall of communism and the execution of Romania’s brutal leader Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife Elena (1989), Romanians have gathered in masses to demand change.
The crowds gathered in Bucharest to protest the apparent double standard the oligarchy has created for itself. No longer is it illegal to take a bribe, for example, so long as the amount does not exceed 45,000 euros (roughly 48,500 dollars). Also, the measure sets free from prison, many politicians who were doing time for corruption.
The grassroots protest started with roughly 12,000 Romanian protesters taking to the streets outside the government building in the capital on Tuesday, and climbed daily to well over 250,000 by Friday.
Romania’s leftist Social Democrat Party (PSD) issued the emergency decree which decriminalized cases of corruption involving less than 45k euros. The PSD won the election of 2016 and the measure was one of the PSD’s first executive orders put in place since taking over power in November. To put things into perspective, consider this headline from the Economist describing the PSD's rise to power, "Conviction politics: Romania elects a party led by a vote rigger." Not only was the party's leader already a convicted election defrauder, but he now reportedly wants to be the country's new leader. Sound familiar?
Following the election, the PSD reportedly wanted then to install their leader, Liviu Dragnea, as the prime minister of Romania. However, the party was unable to do so because Dragnea was serving a two-year suspended sentence for election fraud, although he denied any wrongdoing. The suspended sentence originally barred Dragnea from ever serving as the prime minister. But with the government’s new emergency decree decriminalizing political corruption in cases involving less than 45k euros, it’s now conceivable Dragnea will be named prime minister.
Dragnea has reportedly been keeping a low profile since the measure was decreed. But Romanians are no longer following blindly their leaders nor their governments, and have taken to the streets to express their outrage that political corruption could be decriminalized in their homeland, and could lead to a politician convicted of election fraud being named as the country’s next prime minister.
Dragnea isn’t alone, and has many loyal allies within the justice department, namely Justice Minister Florin Iordache, who called on Romanians to exercise calm and restraint in a Facebook post. Iordache declared that his fellow countrymen who were protesting the new decree were instead reacting to what he called “Fake” news. First, he said the decree wasn’t done by an order of “urgency.” Second, the Justice wrote, that “abuse of office” was not decriminalized. Third, and lastly, he stated the measure was not intended to protect any politicians who’ve stolen or taken bribes. He concluded with, “Now, we need calm and lucidity. Maybe communication has been poor in recent days and gave opportunity to (vitriol and) strained interpretations.” He added he hopes his message further clarified the measure.
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Free thinkers everywhere may draw comparisons with American politics, after becoming aware of the political unrest emerging from Romania. First, there’s the politician accused of criminal behavior. Then there’s the unwillingness to fully prosecute such bad actors. Enter the election fraud theme. Then a supposed authority calls the supporters misguided and declares the protests are the result of “fake news.” The official reasoning behind the government’s decree was to reduce overcrowding in prisoners by releasing low-level offenders (mainly by lowering the legal bar).
Overall, the theme of a rigged election is present, protesters are taking to the streets, and governments are forcefully imposing their will on the people by way of executive orders and governmental decrees. All of which may serve to distract the public from some other more important action having taken place, is occurring, or will take place, while a cloud of controversy blinds everyone.
As the Post rightfully identified, the real reason the government pushed through the urgent executive order was to help Dragnea get out of yet another case of corruption he’s facing. On February 14th, Dragnea will go to trial to face corruption charges yet again, this time to the tune of 24,000 Euros. If the governmental decree is upheld, Dragnea’s case will likely be dismissed and he could conceivably become the next Prime Minister of Romania. “Dragnea is the highest-profile politician currently facing trial but the underlying problem is far more extensive, according to prosecutors. More than 1,000 cases of abuse in office have been investigated by the country's anti-corruption directorate over the last three years, marking a steep rise compared to previous years. Abuses in office make up about one third of the agency's overall anti-corruption investigations,” the Post writes.
According to one Romanian activist:
One of the first things the new Prime-Minister and his Cabinet pushed for was to change the law concerning inmates (some of our jails are overpopulated and there are notes from the EU to do something about it) - that's because Dragnea already is accused in another trial of defrauding the state of €24,000 and the trial is on 14th February (there are quite a few changes to the law, each one affecting different politicians but the one concerning Dragnea is raising the bar for when you can be tried for abuse of power to more than €44,000 thus annulling the above trial)
The consequences of the decree are dire for Romania's anti-corruption chief prosecutor Laura Codruta Kovesi who said the decree will practically end any and all investigations into political corruption in Romania. “This measure will render the anti-corruption fight irrelevant,” she said.
In more practical terms, the politicians in Romania just made it easier for them to take bribes, and engage in other corrupt behaviors, and get away with it. Currently, Romania's Prime Minister, Sorin Grindeanu, is in power but is believed to be a puppet for Dragnea who reportedly controls his every move, including the move to decriminalize corruption in Romania.
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