In less than a month, 500,000 people went in front of the Victoria Palace, in the center of Bucharest, Romania to protest the new emergency decree passed just days prior in what was the biggest protest since the end of the communist era. Now, the government has dropped the law entirely, but small protests still continue even today. Here is how we got here:
On Jan.22, 2017, around midnight, in a first for the Romanian executive power, the newly elected government passed Emergency Decree 13, which would affect the criminal code, decriminalizing what we call “abuse of office” as long as the prejudice to the state is less than 50,000USD. Abuse of office is a very broad crime that encompasses crimes such as influence peddling, but with a right lawyer, it can represent anything from bribery to embezzling. The reasoning for this law? Our country constantly getting sued and losing in EU courts to former inmates because of the degrading prison standards, such as overcrowding. This is a known issue and one where I believe the EU to be wrong on.
Honestly, the proposed changes were detrimental to our country because of how transparent it was that they were only meant to help the corrupt politicians who still have not been prosecuted. Among those is Dragnea, the president of the ruling party and opposition leader, who would benefit the most from this both by increasing his popularity among the party members and by making himself legally eligible to run for president in 2 years, since his suspended sentence would also be wiped clean. Yes, here is the most unreasonable part of their project: even people with suspended sentences would have gotten a fresh start. This bit, coupled with the undemocratic way in which the law was adopted overnight and against nearly unanimous disagreement with the project made both me and all my friends and acquaintances strongly oppose this piece of legislature. Still, I couldn’t bring myself to go to the protests, and I know several other people that couldn’t for the following reason:
Most of the people protesting have no idea what the law actually says: This can be attributed to both the right wing media and to our sitting president who both deemed fit to misinform the public for the sole reason to make an already horrible law look like the end of the world. Shortly after the announcement, propaganda stating that the government just legalized stealing, looting, violence and anything under the sun started pouring in, with Iohannis (the sitting president) taking it as an opportunity to make it seem that the government was dissolving the anti-corruption agency. I could not associate myself with these tactics of misinformation, nor with the people who would rather go to the protest because their friends are doing it rather than read the law themselves and decide whether they agree to it or not. Iohannis and his party would be the primary beneficiaries of a government collapse, since his party is the opposition, and to me the scariest part is that, in response to this attempt of the left to abuse their position, he is proposing making the legislative power stronger, even though its agencies have come under fire lately for corruption as well.
As a Romanian, born and raised, I have no idea where things will go from here. The contested law has been abandoned, and the government will definitely not resign over this, since the ruling party absolutely steamrolled the election and the opposition, with the exception of the president, looked completely lost through the whole process. Personally, I will never support someone that wants to make the already too massive and corrupt machine that is the Romanian government even bigger and more powerful, be it the governing party or the opposition, and I know there’s many that share the same sentiment. Perhaps a small government party will be an option at some point in the near future. Only time will tell what the future holds for Romania and its democracy.