The Romanian diaspora in Europe is protesting the corruption of the ruling PSD government in Bucharest. In Switzerland, writer Dana Grigorcea has taken to the streets and picked up her pen to defend Romania's judiciary.
"Where are you going in this frosty weather?" "To the demo!" "What demo?"
At this point I have to explain to my otherwise very well informed Swiss friends and relatives that this demonstration was announced only in Romanian, and only via social media: "Demo for an independent Romanian judiciary, Saturday at 7 p.m. on the bridge near the city hall, in the center of Zurich."
Read more: Mass protests in Romania: Stop corruption!
And then I head out. In the icy rain, the city seems abandoned. I try to imagine how it would look on the streets of Romania at this time of day; in Bucharest, in the university towns of Iasi, Cluj-Napoca, Brasov and Timisoara, where the neighbors meet in the stairwell and go out together.
As soon as I get on the Zurich city tram, I look at my mobile phone. Under #Rezist, the hashtag used during the 2017 protests against corruption in Romania, the first pictures from Bucharest are being posted: Hundreds have gathered on a city square, while elsewhere, thousands, even tens of thousands of demonstrators have turned out, despite the weather conditions.
'DNA will get you'
I reach Zurich's historical center and soon after, the dimly lit bridge, where two dozen Romanians have punctually assembled at 7 p.m. Most of them are young and unaccompanied, but there are also a few families with children.
Around 7:15 p. m., someone takes the initiative and asks: "Dear fellow citizens, shall we?" The photographer gives a sign, after which the banners and posters that have been brought along are hoisted up. Large cardboard eyes covered with the writing, "We see you," as well as large yellow cardboard hands, on which "All for the judiciary" is written.
The demonstrators take turns going to the front and filming. They begin calling, in a soft voice, "Get rid of the thieves! Get rid of those who are corrupt! Dis-grace! Dis-grace!" And inevitably, this becomes, "DNA, sa vina sa va ia!" ("The anticorruption agency, DNA, will get you!")
The government fears Romanians living abroad
Passersby remain standing behind the photographer and contemplate the strange collection of people, who are opening their mouths wide, but only calling quietly, and with foreign accents.
Onlookers are told what's going on — one of us has brought along explanatory texts in German for such cases, and there are printouts of articles from German-language media. Later in the evening, the photos of us in Zurich will be circulating on social media, together with those from the demos #Rezist Munich, #Rezist London, #Rezist Paris and so on. They show that the Romanian diaspora is actively on the side of the demonstrators in Romania. #Rezist Zurich has set up a Facebook account where Romanian and German-language articles are posted about the scandalous attempts by Romania's Social Democratic (PSD) government to control the judiciary in the country and clear the names of criminal politicians.
An estimated eight million Romanians live outside Romania, which itself has 20 million inhabitants. The PSD is afraid of this diaspora mainly because it has access to international media, all of which rightly criticize the highly corrupt, disgracefully populist Social Democratic Party. In the presidential election in 2014, for example, Klaus Iohannis, who is of German descent, won the votes of almost 90 percent of the Romanians living abroad. He was running against then-favorite PSD candidate, Victor Ponta.
EU flags at a Romanian demonstration in Switzerland
Criticism from abroad has made the PSD even more chauvinistic and increasingly reliant on nationalism in its propaganda. In photographs that the latest PSD government took with Romanian flags, the blue flag with the circle of golden stars was missing from the picture. This led to a nice initiative by the #Rezist movement in Romania and abroad, called, "We are bringing back the flag." Starting from the European Parliament, an EU flag was passed from town to town. The end destination is Bucharest, where it will to be waved as part of pro-democracy protests on March 6.
"The EU flag stands for the values of the European Union: democracy, equality, the rule of law and justice. All this requires an unbiased judicial system. We want to foster these values in Romania as well," says Mihnea Mihai, one of the founders and driving forces behind #Rezist Zurich, which has now been officially registered as an association under Swiss law.
The EU flag was also visible at the demo in Zurich — an interesting sight in a country that is not an EU member in part because of the policies of the right-wing populist Swiss People's Party (SVP). Meanwhile the flag has arrived in Romania and will travel down from the north through Transylvania to Bucharest.
Solidarity with unskilled laborers
The strawberry was chosen as a symbol for the flag initiative to show solidarity with the Romanians working abroad in low-skilled jobs, such those picking strawberries in Spain.
"The strawberry is a symbol for overcoming a difficult time and the recollection of those back at home with good feelings and hopefulness," explains Mihai of #Rezist Zurich, which in addition to the Munich, Birmingham and Budapest #Rezist movements has played a major role in the flag project. The strawberry symbol also serves to close the gap between Romanian intellectuals and unskilled workers, Mihai adds.
The next day I buy a bag of strawberries at the fruit dealer around the corner and take them home. They're from Spain, and they don't have much taste. Anyway, summer is still a way off.
Dana Grigorcea, born in Bucharest in 1979, is a prize-winning Swiss-Romanian author. Her novel "Das primäre Gefühl der Schuldlosigkeit" ("The Primary Feeling of Guiltlessness") came out in 2015, and her new book, "Die Dame mit dem maghrebinischen Hündchen" ("The Lady with the Maghreb Doggy"), was published in January.