Many Romanians think that the judicial system in Romania needs to undergo radical change. In addition, a tax reform is planned. Many are not amused and are going out on the streets. Last February, hundreds of thousands demonstrated – the pictures were disseminated by the media. After that, it became quieter around the opposition, though now the protests seem to be slowly flaring up again.
Elise Wilk, a Romanian journalist who is a guest in Germany and the Bayerische Rundfunk for three weeks is in the studio and I would like to discuss the background of the demonstrations with her now.
Ms Wilk, why have these protests flared up again?
Yes, the protests started again a week ago because the government is planning a new judicial reform. And this time it’s also about mitigating corruption and about the DNA, a prosecutor who investigates corruption. Its authority is being undercut so it will not be able to investigate against officials who are politically involved. There are about 2,500 people currently under investigation, and most of them belong to the PSD party, Social Democrats, along with ALDE, the democratic liberals – a coalition is currently governing Romania – and many of them are currently being investigated for corruption including, of course, the party leaders. The whole thing is practically tailor-made for them.
So this new bill is about reducing the fight against corruption?
Was that the reason in February? Was it also about the judicial reform?
Yes, it was about fast-track legislation that was issued in the middle of the night. It would have meant that the abuse of office would no longer be punished with jail time, but only with a fine if the damages are less than 50,000 euros. So, whenever less than 50,000 euros are involved, nothing happens.
That’s quite a lot actually. And now they want to pass it in parliament. What are the big political building sites in Romania? What are the people dealing with?
I would start with the health care system, with corruption in health care that also leads to human lives being endangered. Corruption kills (note: this is the slogan of the protests in Romania). And the last big mass demonstrations before February 2017 took place at the end of October 2015. That was about a fire during a rock concert at a club. Thirty-five people died then, 27 of them died in the fire itself, but the rest of them died in hospital. They didn’t necessarily die from the consequences of the fire, but of bacteria that were in the hospital. So a lot of people do not die as a result of whatever they are admitted to hospital for, but because of these bacteria. If you’re unfortunate enough to be hospitalised, you need to give the doctor money to make sure your surgery goes well. You have to give the anaesthesiologist money, you have to give the nurse money, but you never know whether you’ll come back from hospital alive.
So corruption is the thread running through all political areas? Who is taking to the streets? Who are the demonstrators?
Yes, most of those who are demonstrating are young people who have a university degree and are employed somewhere and earn median to good salaries. They are the “average protesters.” They live in big cities. But among all the calls I’ve seen on Facebook, I’ve noticed that that we live in a bubble. Unfortunately, we don’t see what’s happening outside of the bubble, and that there are many who oppose this, who voted for this government, they are the majority. And especially the people who live in the countryside.
It’s an urban-rural divide as it has been observed in other countries in recent years.
Yes, it’s exactly the same thing.
For a long time there were no significant protests; that’s a difference to today in Romania. Why is that, what pathway is Romania taking?
Yes, I also noticed that. Ten or twelve years ago not so many people would have taken to the streets. That is why I believe that something is really beginning to change and that we are really talking about democracy here. So there are good prospects: we are showing them that we will not put up with that and we that will go out on the streets until we reach our goal. But we also have to reach the other people and explain to them why this reform is not good, why this financial reform is not good, and they only have something to lose.