Feb 14, 2017 - by Lavinia Stan, President, Society for Romanian Studies, Department of Political Science, St. Francis Xavier University
For almost two weeks now, hundreds of thousands of Romanian ordinary citizens and civil society activists have taken to the street in Bucharest, across the country, and even in cities like London where significant numbers of Romanian migrants live and work to protest against the Social Democratic government of Sorin Grindeanu. A little known politician with no previous ministerial experience, Grindeanu was nominated as prime minister by the Social Democrats, who in the December 2016 elections won almost half of all seats in the bicameral parliament. Grindeanu’s name might have never been proposed if President Klaus Iohannis had accepted Social Democratic Party leader Liviu Dragnea as prime minister. But Dragnea was under investigation for fraud, and thus Iohannis warned that unscrupulous corrupt politicians should not occupy high-ranking government positions.
When it joined the European Union ten years ago, Romania was urged to step up its anti-corruption fight as it was registering high levels of political corruption that gripped everyday life at all levels. The country remains the second most corrupt EU member state. Corruption levels have not skyrocketed mainly because the National Anti-corruption Department has investigated, indicted and brought before the courts numerous politicians, party leaders, government officials at national and local level, judges, prosecutors, university presidents, and police officers. More Social Democratic Party leaders have been found to engage in bribery, embezzlement, influence peddling, and misconduct than members of any other political party in Romania. That is hardly surprising, since the Social Democrats have held a tight grip on the Romanian post-communist state institutions for most of the past 28 years. Social Democratic cabinets have ruled the country in 1989-1996, 2000-2004, 2008-2009, and 2012-2015, and they controlled the local administration for most of the remaining years. Whereas other parties responded to anti-corruption calls by screening their electoral candidates to sideline corrupt politicians, the Social Democrats adamantly refused to blame even leaders convicted by the courts.
The Social Democrats have a serious public image problem, as they are seen as ready to use political office for their personal or group enrichment. This public perception was reinforced when late on the night of 31 January 2017 the Grindeanu cabinet adopted Emergency Ordinance 13 that decriminalized abuse in the performance of official duties if the damage is less than 200,000 Lei (some USD47,000). Fearful that this late-night decision would undo years of anti-corruption efforts, allow political corruption to continue with impunity, and benefit tens of Social Democrats investigated for misconduct, Romanian took to the streets. They have been there ever since, night after night, sometimes bringing their small children along, battling the cold, and peacefully demonstrating against the government. Grindeanu refuses to step down, claiming without evidence that protesters support the interests of foreign governments that seek to destabilize the country and block Social Democrat re-distributive policies benefiting the poor. His cabinet agreed, however, to annul the emergency ordinance with another one, whose constitutionality is precarious at best. Only time will tell if the Social Democrats, heirs to the once powerful Communist Party, will finally accept to work for the people more than against them.
Lavinia Stan is the President of the Society for Romanian Studies (http://www.society4romanianstudies.org) and Associate Editor of Women's Studies International Forum (http://www.journals.elsevier.com/womens-studies-international-forum/). Professor Stan is also Chair of the Department of Political Science at St. Francis Xavier University.