Over 200,000 people took to the streets of Bucharest in Romaniaon Sunday night.A further 300,000 marched in towns and cities across the country, including 40,000 in Timisoara and 45,000 in Cluj-Napoca.
They came after protests had forced the ruling social-democratic party to back down on its “corruption decree”. Those found guilty of abuse of power would only face jail if their corruption case involved more than £37,000.
Prime minister Sorin Grindeanu, who pushed through the decree last Tuesday, withdrew it last night and promised to put a bill before parliament.But protesters are now calling for Grindeanu’s resignation – and for his government to go.
Opposition parties jumped on the protesters’ demand with a plan to file a no confidence motion before the government’s climb down.But the National Liberal Party and Save Romania Union offer no alternative.
Such right wing liberal forces argue that the government was trying to “turn back the clock” before the 1989 popular revolution. The European Union (EU) came in behind them, warning that there could be “no backtracking” on corruption.
The social democrats trace their origins to the National Salvation Front. This was a wing of the old Stalinist regime that broke with dictator Nicolae Ceascescu and put itself at the head of the popular revolution in 1989.
The social democrats were swept into office last December on a wave of anger against austerity. It was being imposed by a right wing-backed technocratic government that was brought in after protests forced out the last social democratic prime minster Victor Ponta for corruption.
When movements against corruption spring up in eastern Europe, some look to the EU and the free market as an alternative.
Some people on the protests were waving EU flags.
Romania shows the power of mass protest—but also that movements can be pulled both to the left and right.
Protesters’ anger against corruption—and austerity—will have to be turned against all those at the top. They will have to articulate demands independent of both the government and the right wing opposition parties and their EU backers.
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