An unprecedented violent crackdown by riot police against anti-government protesters in Romania’s capital left many wounded and further escalated the ongoing standoff between the ruling PSD party and the liberal opposition, including President Klaus Iohannis.
On Friday, August 10, gendarmes deployed tear gas and water cannons to disperse the almost 100,000 demonstrators in Bucharest’s Victory Square. Demonstrators were protesting the PSD-led cabinet’s policies, as well as endemic corruption. More than 400 people were injured, including an Austrian cameraman and a Deutsche Welle correspondent.
The mass protests were not the first to take place against the PSD-led coalition government, which took office after the December 2016 elections. In February of last year, more than 200,000 Romanians took part in an anti-corruption demonstration – the biggest protest in the country since the fall of communism in 1989. This, however, was the first time protests turned violent, with the gendarmerie randomly shooting tear gas canisters into the crowd because some protesters had allegedly tried to enter the government palace.
The PSD government’s response to tens of thousands Romanians in the diaspora who came from Italy, Spain, UK, Sweden, Germany etc to #Bucharest to peacefully protest: tear gas…#demisia #rezist #FaraPenali #corupție #anticorruption #corruption #diasporaAcasa #NuCedăm #România pic.twitter.com/m4rHf0jq52
— Frank Elbers (@franckelbers) August 10, 2018
In response to these incidents, President Iohannis condemned the riot police’s violence, calling it “strongly disproportionate.” On Monday, August 13, his office released a recorded video statement in which he said: “Three days have passed and there is no responsibility for what happened on Friday in Victory Square.” The European Commission also condemned the violent suppression of peaceful protestors. Firing back against these criticism, the PSD said: “Romania is collecting the fruits of a policy of hate, disunity and lying propaganda promoted by President Klaus Werner Iohannis and his followers.”
President Iohannis has long been on a collision course with the PSD-led government, which has made corruption its trade mark over the past years. The party opposes the prosecution of politicians who have accepted bribes, and proposed changes to the criminal code that would absolve these individuals of responsibility. These amendments were passed by parliament in record time in July. After months of mounting pressure from the PSD coalition, Iohannis was forced to dismiss the country’s top anti-corruption prosecutor, Laura Codruța Kövesi. Kövesi was unpopular with the PSD for bringing cases against various government officials, including mayors, judges, MPs and even Prime Minister Victor Ponta, who resigned in November 2015 after popular protests erupted against him, partially triggered by corruption charges he was facing at the time.
The August 10 protests, which were called for by Romanians living in the diaspora, drew many demonstrators living and working abroad, who had returned home especially for the occasion. An estimated 3 million Romanians live outside of Romania, with many leaving because of the endemic problems with corruption, low wages, and a lack of opportunities. “We don’t want our country to be governed by thieves who line their own pockets,” Georgeta Anghel, forty-three, who has lived in Spain for fourteen years, told the Associated Press.
The chances Romania’s corruption problems will be solved any time soon are slim. The PSD and its coalition members enjoy a solid majority in both the chamber of deputies and the senate. The next round of parliamentary elections will not be held until late 2020 or early 2021. Until then, Romania’s citizens will have to continue expressing their dissent on the country’s streets.