On August 10, DiEM25 activists together with members of the Romanian diaspora, organised a protest in Bucharest to highlight problems and grievances experienced by Romanians across the continent, most of all corruption as well as poor life and work conditions. Around 25,000 people gathered in Victoria Square, in a reenactment of a similar protest carried out last year. The protest was not partisan and supported neither a particular political movement or party nor targeted a specific political foe.
Diaspora’s Protest against conditions for mass emigration
Between 2007, the year Romania became member of the EU, and 2017 almost 17% of the total population of the country have emigrated. This places Romania in second place globally in terms of population loss due to migration, after Syria. This present wave of migration from Romania and other East European countries provides evidence for the unseen tragedies and hidden scars of the crisis – modern slavery, sex trafficking and the untold drama of children left behind by parents forced to migrate for work.
Yet, despite the promise of better wages abroad, the dream for many Romanians is still to return home, to reunite with their children and separated families and regain a sense of dignity and purpose that many of them couldn’t find as migrants. It is a dream stifled by the indifference and systemic corruption of Romania’s political Establishment.
Last year’s demonstrations ended up in a mess
On August 10, 2018, Romanian migrants organised to come home to protest against the inaction of these corrupted and indifferent politicians. However, the protest was infiltrated by those seeking to instigate violence and attack the police and security forces, culminating with clashes leaving many wounded. This compromised the protest and prevented the protesters from gathering, formulating and articulating their demands.
One full year to obtain the permissions for a new rally…
It was a failure the Romanians chose not to accept. Immediately after the August events, they begun a renewed effort to organise. Tommy Tomescu, a Romanian citizen living in UK and Claudiu Marginean, a DiEM25 member and coordinator of DSC Cluj, took the task of organising a new protest. They fought for a whole year against political bureaucracy attempting to prevent the authorisation of a new protest for the Romanian diaspora. They had to sue the Mayor of Bucharest to obtain the authorisation to demonstrate. Subsequently the record of the authorisation mysteriously vanished from the offices of the Mayor only to finally reappear after public pressure was exerted. These are just a few examples of the obstacles placed in way of citizens wishing to make their voices heard.
…accompanied by a great victory for small parties
This was not the first time that DiEM25 activists like Claudiu Marginean fought the political Establishment in Romania. In 2015, he contested the Romanian Electoral Law minimum requirement for 25,000 signatures for the registration of a political party, winning in the Constitutional Court reducing the requirement to only three (!) signatures.
One cannot have true democracy without real representation and the right to express one’s political will. This is what DiEM25 fights for in Romania, with the example of simple citizens standing up for their rights irrespective of the obstacles in their path.
This year, the protesters finally made themselves heard
On August 10, 2019, the second big demonstration of the Romanian diaspora took place without violence. Prior to the event, all of the public’s demands regarding the problems of the diaspora where collected and filed officially with the Romanian Government.
Among the 25,000 participants was the pianist Davide Martello who cancelled his concerts in Germany to be present to the protest in Bucharest. Davide is known for travelling in conflict zones to play his piano. “I’m sorry I have to cancel all my next concerts in Germany. There is a big demonstration on August 10 in Bucharest against corruption in Romania. Last year at the same peaceful demonstration police used teargas against their own people, I want to help them this time so they can hide behind my piano in case the police uses teargas again”, the pianist wrote on his Facebook page.
Similar protests also took place at the same time in several other cities in Romania, as well as abroad, mainly in European cities with large Romanian populations.
Foreign media made it a partisan protest – it wasn’t
While the protest collected many demands and grievances, especially against the corruption plaguing Romania, both demonstrations were not partisan. This is why DiEM25 activists have chosen not to involve any specific political party or movement but rather to invest their resources and effort as simple citizens – the very civic spirit of DiEM25.
But this was not the case for the political parties trying to gain ground and attempting to infiltrate the protest and use it to their own interests, the very politicians that form part of the corrupted system in the very first place. This is one of the reasons why last years protest was compromised, reduced to a political conflict between the reigning Social-Democrats and the political right fighting for power.
Right-wing extremists encouraged hunting their enemies
The organisers attempted to separate themselves from the right-wing extremists who chose to throw objects and intimidate volunteers. Four people were taken into custody by the police as teargas sprays and cold weapons were found on them. This didn’t stop right-wing populist leaders continuing to be present with their own support groups. The extremists’ slogans that were to be seen last year were present again, including sexually offensive slogans against the governing Social-Democrats and statements referring to “hunting humans” to the address of the supporters of the left party in government.
Even though the protest was not partisan, many media especially foreign outlets, chose to portray the protest as an anti-government one.
Fighting corruption in Romania is not about fighting only one political party or supporting populist politicians yearning for power. While it might be correct to attack certain politicians, attacking entire parties or collectively condemning people for their personal political choices is an attack against the very basics of democracy, free choice and representation. These aggression instigated and maintained by the right populist parties cease to be part of a normal democratic political debate and promote social hate speech, violence and radicalisation. These are part of the same rising offensive of the far-right and of hate speech across Europe and beyond, which DiEM25 is fighting against.
The most dangerous aspect however is that this increase in hate speech has been induced and transferred by the populist Right into the speech of civic activists and NGOs and even ordinary citizens, dividing society and turning citizens against one another. It is a vicious circle of increasing hatred and division that helps only political parties and corrupt politicians and keeps the citizens captive to choosing the lesser evil – a political Stockholm Syndrome for the population of entire countries.
This politics of hate and despair can be seen across Europe, with the Establishment and Right-wing populists, like jackals and hyenas feasting on what remains of citizens’ democracy.
Yet, if we the citizens don’t fall for their games, for their fear and hate, for their borders and races and classes – then there is nothing that we cannot accomplish, nothing that we cannot dream of.
Florin Platon, DSC Bucharest and Claudiu Marginean, DSC Cluj
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