Romanians abroad wanting to vote in European Parliamentary elections had to wait hours to cast their ballot. Dana Alexandra Scherle queued outside Romania's consulate in Bonn to take part. This is what she experienced.
On Sunday, Romanians not only got to cast their ballot in the European Parliament elections. They also had their say in a referendum on whether the government should be banned from changing judicial legislation via emergency decrees. And if they want a ban on any amnesty and pardoning for corruption-related crimes.
At the Romanian consulate in Bonn, hundreds began gathering in the early morning to take part in this crucial vote. A young man with a blue cap and a tank top welcomed the strangers queuing as if they were close friends: "Hey, it's cool you showed up!" Then, triumphantly, he shouted: "Today, we're going to topple the PSD [Social Democratic Party of Romania]!" The waiting Romanians clapped ecstatically. They, like so many others, have had enough of the Social Democrats governing Romania, who have been repeatedly criticized by Brussels for trying to relax the country's anti-corruption laws.
The young man in the tank top told me that "if there were less corruption in Romania the country's economy would be doing better. Then we would not have to work in Germany to make a living but would be in our home country." A bearded man in his 40s nodded in agreement, adding: "I was lucky, I could take my wife and children along with me to Germany, but few of my colleagues could do that. They miss their families at lot and are always very sad."
'I have not seen my children in months'
When a young mother joined the queue, which within minutes had grown several hundred meters long, an elegantly dressed lady with dark shades told her: "Come over, you can squeeze in, no problem." Several seasonal workers, who had traveled to Bonn from surrounding areas in order to vote, smiled and moved aside to let her join the queue. One of them told me that "I have not seen my children in months" and then showed me a picture of his family on his phone. Another told me: "I don't really want to return to Romania, my life has been here in Germany for many years now. But I want to vote so that my friends and children have a better life sometime."
I, too, relocated to Germany from Romania. I have lived here since 2001. I speak both German and Romanian, and have dual nationality. As someone who believes in the idea of Europe, it is no contradiction to have two passports, and to feel at home in two EU states at once. For me, identity is not a question of "either, or" but rather "as well as."
As a European, it meant a lot to me to vote in Romania's best interests: For a fresh start politically and against the nationalist, populist and anti-European course of the ruling PSD.
Our parents once stood in line to buy milk
I'd packed a thick novel before heading off to the Romanian consulate on Sunday. I had expected a wait — though I never thought it would take two hours until I would finally cast my ballot. It's ironic: Back when Romania was a communist state under Ceausescu's rule, our parents were constantly standing in line to buy basic goods like milk or sugar. Now, almost 30 years after the end of Communist rule, Romanians abroad queue to exercise their basic democratic right to vote — something that my parents and others who'd grown up in a dictatorship could only dream of when they were young.
So on Sunday, it was our duty to our parents to remain patient and vote, even though Romanian authorities had failed to set up enough polling stations abroad and generally made it as difficult as possible for us to vote. Romanian PSD lawmakers have a low opinion of so-called "foreign Romanians," regardless of their vocation or background. Unsurprisingly, most Romanians abroad do not support the PSD either. And most of them voted for the opposition on Sunday.
During the 2014 presidential elections, Romanians in other EU states faced similarly long queues in front of polling stations. Back then, I should have packed a weighty tome like "War and Peace." And a thermos flask with hot tea. The severe cold I caught after standing outside for five hours in the November rain until I could finally vote stayed with me for weeks.
At least I was spared that, waiting for two hours in the more clement May climate.
A present to my niece
A friend of mine who lives in Berlin needed a little more endurance. She spent three hours in front of the Romanian embassy in the German capital. And although all foreign polling stations shut at 9 pm, the Berlin embassy let her cast her vote just before 10 pm.
Romanians in the city of Offenbach near Frankfurt, meanwhile, faced such a long wait that Red Cross workers had to go around distributing drinking water. This, too, is an expression of European solidarity.
My vote for a pro-European, democratic Romania is a present to my niece Petra, who will be born in my hometown Sibiu this summer. One day, when she's grown up, I'll tell her about Romania's "Sunday for future." And she will be confused that several years ago, Romanians had to queue for hours just to vote.
Above all, I hope that her generation will not have to go abroad to make a living. And that she will ask: "Why did so many people have to leave Romania when you were young?"