Romania's Latest Diaspora Protest Triggers Violent Response from the Riot Police
In this article, we focus on the latest Diaspora protest that took place in Bucharest on August 10th 2018. The topic was approached through an online survey conducted on the questia.ro platform. The research study was active between August 13th and August 20th, 2018 and covered 1207 respondents, with a +/- 3% margin of error when reported to the Romanian online population.
The protest from August 10th intended to bring Diaspora (Romanians from abroad) and those from the country to express their dissatisfaction towards the ruling party, the current government and their policies. The goal of the protest was the resignation of the current government. What started out as a peaceful protest turned into a violent confrontation between the riot police and groups of protestors. Many peaceful protestors ended up being hurt by the gendarmes who intervened with violence against the people in order to clear the square.
Many Romanians from all around the world gathered in Bucharest’s Victoriei Square from the earliest hours of Friday morning. For the most part of the day, the rally was peaceful. However, the first incidents occurred after 4PM, when a few protesters tried to overpass the riot and reach the Government’s yard. In response, the police intervened with tear gas against the people from the square, innocent people being impacted as well.
Some minor incidents still occurred in some parts of the square but most of the crowd was peaceful, shouting their slogans against the government such as “Down with the government” or “Justice, not corruption”. More and more people started coming at the protest after the incidents. Around 9PM, everyone lit up their phones, a sign that became a trademark for Romanian Anti-Government protests. There were around 100K people in the square at that time.
After this, things began quite serios when a group of violent protestors started clashing into the riot police, trying to break the police cordon, throwing bottles and many other objects at them. The gendarmes reacted in throwing tear gas into people’s faces, smoke grenades and using water cannons on the people.
The incidents continued to erupt and around 11PM the riot police started clearing the square using force, gas, water cannons and beating dozens of people, including many innocent ones. It is stated that more than 400 people were injured during the intervention and needed medical care. There were also some gendarmes that were hurt: two of them from which one was a woman, were beaten by a group of aggressive protesters. It was also reported that they also stole their guns.
More than 200 charges have been filed against the police due to their actions in that night. According to Romania Insider, “the military prosecutors are checking whether the gendarmes who intervened in the protest are guilty of abuse of service and abusive behavior. They have been looking at footage captured by other protesters and posted on social media, as well as images filmed by journalists and televisions. Also, they invited those who participated in the protest and got injured during the violent clashes to come to the Military Prosecutor’s Office and provide information about what happened.”
The news quickly echoed into the international press. The Washington Post writes about Romanian’s Prime Minister response towards the event. Viorica Dancilă defended the use of force by the riot police, saying that it was justified. She also accused other politicians, including the Romanian President Klaus Iohannis that they tried to “violently remove a legitimate government” and accused Iohannis of “inciting the population against the authorities”.
“What happened on the streets of Bucharest on 10 August shocked everyone. Victory Square became a chaotic battleground. Protesters I’ve interviewed are still reeling from the viciousness of the crackdown, having swallowed pepper spray or been targeted by the military police. Children and elderly people weren’t spared. Many are convinced the violence was unleashed deliberately by the police to make protesters look aggressive. But that has backfired. Prosecutors have now opened an investigation.”, writes Claudia in her article for The Guardian.
After Friday’s events, the protesters returned to streets on Saturday, demanding the Social Democrat government’s resignation. Reuters reports there were around 40K people gathered in Victoriei Square on Saturday, in front of the Government offices, shouting “Resignation! Resignation!”, waving Romanian and European Union flags and blowing vuvuzelas. However, Liviu Dragnea, the Social Democrat chief, said in an open letter that his party and the government will not resign due to public pressure. Telegraph documented why people returned to streets:
- "I came after seeing what happened on Friday on television - the brutality of the police against peaceful people. My children work in Spain and they would like to come back. But for now that's not possible as the politicians are only interested in themselves and do nothing for anyone else."
- "But things quickly turned bad: they fired tear gas at us, it was unbearable."
- "We couldn't breathe and we had to seek shelter in the surrounding streets."
Thankfully, Bucharest’s Saturday protest was peaceful. It is reported that similar demonstrations have also been held in big cities from Romania such as Cluj, Sibiu, Timisoara, Iasi, Constanta.
Acording to CNN, “Romania was ranked 49th out of 180 on Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index for last year, below most other European nations. The Council of Europe's anti-corruption group, GRECO, published a report earlier this year, which pointed to Romania as being among a handful of countries in which legislative initiatives either reversed anti-corruption measures or risked breaching international anti-corruption standards.”
Critics say that Romania has backtracked in fighting corruption since the ruling Social Democratic Party assumed power in 2016. We’ve covered the topic of Romanian protests before, at the beginning of 2017 when more than 250.000 people demonstrated against the government’s decision to decriminalize some great offences and more recently, two months ago, when people protested against the judicial changes due to which criminals, violators, pedophiles and drug dealers to get rid of charges.
First, we asked the respondents whether they participated at the protest or not. Most of them (46.1%) didn’t go to the demonstration while 42.7% of respondents wished they participated even though they didn’t.
Then, we asked those who went to the demonstration and those who didn’t go but wished they did (53.9%) how they felt during Friday night’s events. The main feeling they resembled was anger (with 83.3% agreeing to a great and very great extent they felt this), followed by disappointment (76.7%), determination to continue the fight against corruption (74.2%) and shock due to the violent approach of the gendarmerie in order to clear the square (71.7%). 81.8% reported they felt empathic while 35.9% said they were afraid of what was happening. However, 48.8% felt hopeful, meaning they believe their fight against corruption will have positive effects.
Those who didn’t participate at the demonstration mainly felt disappointed (55%) of what was happening to the people in the streets and angry at the same time (49.7%). Compared to those who participated at the event, those who didn’t was less afraid (25.1%) and less hopeful (24.9%).
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