- Andreea Brüchner
Romania's corrupt government: here to stay?
“Will this ever end?” is the question most Romanians reflect upon while watching the news or after having discussed the current political situation of their country.
In June 2016, the Social-Democrat Party (PSD) won the local elections, receiving only 37% of the votes, due to the low voter turnout. However, the results assured a majority within both the government and the local councils across Romania, leaving the opposition almost out of the game. Subsequently, in the last two years, PSD has managed to bring Romania at one of its lowest points since the post-Communism era. Since June 2016, there has been an outstanding number of protests directed specifically against PSD and its activity. In January 2018, Romania saw the biggest demonstration since the 1989 Revolution. Almost 600.000 Romanians protested against firstly, the decriminalization of the abuse of power and secondly, the several changes to the penal code aimed at making prison sentencing as hard as possible and corruption as common as it can be.
All of these changes are senseless in a democratic European state. However, it all starts to fall into place considering that an overwhelming number of ministers and congressmen, including the head of the party, Liviu Dragnea, have criminal records or are sentenced to prison, but still manage to remain in the public office due to Constitutional loopholes. Recently, the efforts against corruption suffered another powerful hit due to the dismissal of Laura Codruța Kovesi, the chief of the National Anticorruption Directorate (NAD) - the only Romanian public institution which seemed to still be working. Since 2013, NAD has cracked down on many lawmakers and ministers for abuse of power and fraud. This led to a national loss of hope, anger and despair in Romania and it has convinced a remarkable number of expats to plan their holidays in order to be present in the Victoria Square in Bucharest on August 10.
The high number of protesters gave Romanians the jolt to try and change things once again. Unfortunately, the rally took a violent turn, with 450 people being injured by the security forces for no apparent reason. It was the first time ever that the constabulary used tear gas, physical force, water cannons and pepper spray on women, children and the elderly who were peacefully protesting in the square. The irrefutable recordings of innocent people being beaten up or tear gassed by the security forces flooded the media in the days after, but the government has chosen to blame the demonstrators without bringing any supporting evidence against them. What is more, everyone has a different opinion about how and why had the protest turned violent. However, none thing is for sure, the government is taking away the only resource left for people to have their say by threatening them in the most primal way - by using violence. All of this, while proudly acting as if they are above the law.
Romania has been striving to win the battle against corruption for year, but the process seems to stagnate once again due to several motives. One of them consists of the people who will continue to vote with whoever promises higher wages and pensions despite their electoral plans or actions. It is true that PSD raised wages and cut taxes but they pulled it off at the cost of the inflation rate as high as 5.4%, a figure which still cannot be understood by the masses. Another cause is the high level of ignorance regarding the political situation which naturally, leads to a low voter turnout, a trend which can be witnessed all over Europe, but especially in the ex-Communist states. Last, but not least, the worryingly high number of people who have left the country seeking a better financial situation or better career opportunities has not been beneficial at all for this matter. These people might never come back unless a major change takes place in Romania, meaning the battle against corruption is fought by fewer and fewer people each year, in the same way in which the protests are held with fewer and fewer people each day until eventually, everyone gets discouraged and abandons the battle. In fact, there are people who will probably not live to see a ‘healthy Romania’, such as the baby-boomer generation and the preceding ones.
Truth be told, not much can be done until the presidential elections in 2019 and more importantly, the legislative ones in 2020. Maybe then Romanians will finally, vote for more fitting politicians who have clean records and will radically turn Romania into something most people have only dreamt of. Until then, the only hope left is that PSD stops the abuses before there is nothing left to save.