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What is happening in Romania is not democracy

Schwartz Robert Kommentarbild App
Robert Schwartz
August 11, 2018

In Romania's capital, Bucharest, police are using brutal force against peaceful demonstrators. Those responsible must stand trial, says DW's Robert Schwartz.

Smore rising from the ground amid protests in Bucharest
Image: Reuters/Inquam Photos/A. Neagoe

There has never been a clearer declaration of political bankruptcy by a government. By deploying huge numbers of police and gendarmes, the authorities in Bucharest wanted to show the whole world who is in charge in Romania. Around 100,000 people had gathered in Victoriei (Victory) Square in front of the seat of government to demonstrate against corruption and despotism and call for a functioning constitutional state and an independent judiciary. Many of these people had traveled from across Europe in the preceding days to demand that the values they had come to know in their host countries be upheld in their old homeland.

It was an urgent call for democracy and normality in a country that risks suffocating under the stranglehold of kleptocrats and nationwide cronyism. This kind of demonstration was an absolute first in Europe: Tens of thousands of expatriate Romanian citizens returned home during their holidays to show, together with their families, friends and acquaintances, that they have not forgotten their homeland. Romanians at home and abroad wanted to send a clear signal together: Stop Romania's downfall!

 Open declaration of war

The government's response was brutal. The police used tear gas, water cannon and truncheons indiscriminately because of scattered groups of hooligans and rioters who had mixed in with the peaceful demonstrators to create a provocation. These methods were used against families with children, against the elderly, against journalists. Against ordinary people who did not want to give up their hope of living once again in a functioning democracy in their homeland. And not somewhere abroad where they work or study. And where they live because they can no longer see any prospects in their native country.

Robert Schwartz
Robert Schwartz is currently in Bucharest for DW

It all evokes memories of Tiananmen and Taksim. And of the "Mineriad," the violent protests in Bucharest in June 1990, when, after the fall of the Ceausescu dictatorship, the post-communist turncoats called thousands of miners to the capital to consolidate their new, old power. The "Mineri," or miners, had the task of muzzling all political liberal opponents — especially opposition politicians, students and intellectuals. And they did so with extreme brutality.

This time, it was police officers and gendarmes who were entrusted with a similar task and took violent action against peaceful demonstrators. Such things just do not happen in a democracy! To be clear once more: These were not security measures taken to combat left-wing or right-wing extremist demonstrators of the kind who are prepared to use violence and do so every so often throughout Europe. No: This was an open declaration of war against the Romanian people. The responsibility for this undoubtedly lies with the government. And with Liviu Dragnea, the powerful leader of the ruling Social Democrats. Dragnea is not permitted to become prime minister due to a previous conviction for electoral manipulation. But as parliamentary president, he controls his Cabinet's every step. Many ministers and other officials, including the responsible minister of the interior, come from the region where Dragnea governed like a "local baron" — as Romanian media often call corrupt politicians and businesspeople — as head of the district council.  These people are fully devoted to their "master" with eternal loyalty. Under the guise of parliamentary democracy, they have gradually brought the judiciary and state institutions under their control.

This must stop now. It is not what democracy is about. The restructuring of the state by Dragnea and his flunkies must be permanently halted. Those responsible for the brutal deployment on this momentous August 10 must stand trial. Klaus Iohannis, the liberal head of state, has all constitutional instruments at his disposal to finally free his country from the clutches of kleptocrats. He has the support of the majority of Romanians at home and abroad. The more than 100,000 demonstrators in Bucharest and other major cities have made that impressively clear once again.

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