Romania and their fight for their rights.
My first stop in Romania was Bucharest, the exciting capital with its chaotic and metropolitan atmosphere. Almost like I planned it like this, the next day there was going to be a demonstration of the Diaspora against corruption and for better labour rights. The staff of the hostel said it would be totally safe to go to the demonstration, as most of them are calm and peaceful. I really, but definitely also the Romanians I spoke with, did not see it coming that the backlash of this demonstration was going to be based on the violent interference of the police. As I left quite early from the demonstration, I only felt a bit of the tear gas being used and mostly experienced a nice atmosphere of hopeful people. Especially being there as a spectator was enormously appreciated and we were thanked by so many people. I thanked them for being brave and still having the faith that things will change by going on the streets. I hope my story will do right to the situation and their story.
My knowledge on Romania was not very up to date when I arrived, so the first morning I decided to go for a Free walking tour. I had a very enthusiastic guide, who gave us a lot of background, sources and stories to think about. He explained about the revolution, communism and the young generation in Romania, ‘The children of the revolution’. It was the first guide who was not afraid to explain difficult political issues from his own perspective through which we saw a glimpse of the discussion between the generations.
The generation that is born around the 1990’s are the Children of the Revolution. They grew up in a developing society and a recovering economy. Their parents told them the stories of the revolution and the communism, but they did not experience it themselves. The tour guide was such a ‘Child of the revolution’. As he explained it, this generation forms a gap with former generations that grew up in the communist area and therefore have a different perspective on the politics and a different morality. As this generation does not have any attachments to the former communist area, as all the others do have. At the same time it is now that this generation is graduating, starting to work and are starting to become the new rising power. It was therefore very interesting for me to be able to talk with some of them, and coincidentally I’m the same age. I talked about the differences for us growing up and how we see the future, with the staff from the hostel, some people at the demonstrations and later with two Romanians in Sibiu. Maybe surprising, but there were also problems that we had in common and worries that we all have about the modern time. But mostly we talked about the meaning of the demonstration and its backlash.
' Fight for your rights, or nothing will change.'
At 19:00 we arrived at the Victory square, where the parliament seats, the square was already very crowded but little we knew that it was nothing compared to the amount of people that would be there later that night. The first thing that we noticed was the amount of shielded police around who blocked a big part of the square in front of the parliament building. The second thing that we noticed was the enormous flag that was wrapped around the building. At first I was confused as the demonstration was not legalized by the parliament, so I did not understand how the protesters managed to put the flag up. It took me a while to realize that the government put up the flag as a symbol that they are not the enemy of the people put also Romanians. I think it mostly gave intimidating pictures to have such a huge flag above the square and at the side of the police.
This was not the only flag that was present at the square. A lot of people waved the Romanian flag, big and small. More surprising though is that we started to notice more and more foreign flags being waved. First we thought this was because people from those countries are living in Romania and support the cause. We went up to the man holding the Canadian flag and he explained us what the Diaspora meant, it is the name for the Romanians who moved outside of Romania to live and work somewhere else. Romania has one of the highest emigration rates in Europe and it is starting to be a huge problem for the Romanian economy as the country is emptying out. The diaspora is in a certain way blamed for leaving and not rebuilding the economy of the country, on the other hand it is understandable as they earn much more abroad and can send back that money. This summer they came back to visit their family and combined with that demand better labour rights so they can return to Romania and start working there again. They were waving the flags of their new countries.
So it did not take long to find the first Dutch flag waving and I decided to walk up there to see what she would have to say about this. Though she was from the older generation both her English and Dutch were fluent. She now has a Dutch citizenship as well as she has been living in Amsterdam for 20 years. She wants to come back to Romania, even though she enjoyed being in Amsterdam, but as long as the payment is not getting better, it is just not realistic. She explained that they were supposed to be with around 50 Romanians from the Netherlands. But for a part of the people the trains were delayed, or busses were stopped or they got delayed at the border. For her there was no doubt but that the government had done that on purpose to stop people from coming to the demonstration. There were also people on the streets who told her that she should not take leave time from her job to go protesting, she should just work. Her answer to that was, ‘We have to fight for our rights, or nothing will change.’
The demonstration was organized as a demonstration for labour rights and to return the diaspora, but it was also about much more, for example the continuing corruption in the Parliament. Apparently the politicians, candidates etc. who are sued for corruption, are convicted, in jail or there is still a research going on, can remain in their public functions. So even when they have proven that someone is corrupt, he can keep his position. Corruption in politics is still very much present in Romanian and this led to the demonstration of last year. Unfortunately those demonstrations haven’t changed much. The result of that now is that especially the younger generation was not too optimistic about the effects of this demonstration.
They did not yet knew that the demonstration would turn into a violent protest. The next morning photos were published in the media showing the people who were standing in front row of the demonstration. It turned out that the police intervened with tear gas and aggression because they said they were provoked. The people who were standing in the front row were known football hooligans who are known for starting riots with the police. The people I spoke to weren’t too surprised about this and said that the government paid these people to have an excuse to intervene into the demonstration and end it abruptly. Though the actual backlash of the event did not turn out too well for the government. Apparently the police also attacked four Israelien tourists who drove by in a cab and an Austrian reported got hit as well. On video’s published on social media you can see clearly that the police is beating non-violent protesters who are holding their hands up in the air. The president condemned the violence on his twitter account, calling for the minister of internal affairs to come with a statement.
Children of the Revolution
The next stop for me was Sibiu, a small town just a couple of hours north of Bucharest. Here I met two Romanian guys who sat down with me for a whole evening and shed their light on the whole situation. They both agreed that the situation is a bit more complicated as the demonstrators are pretending it is. For example, this demonstration was against the parliament and not the president. The president is not from the biggest party at the moment and is separately elected. The turn-out for the presidential elections are high, and this one is in particular kind of respected, though his power is limited. On the other hand is the turn-out for the parliamentary elections much lower, while those are the elections that will lead to the construction of the government. One of the guys made the comment that it is hypocritical to demonstrate against the parliament while only 30% vote for them.
They also agreed on something else, which was in line with what the tour guide told me. Change takes time. The demonstrators were asking for labour rights like they have in their new home towns, but what if that change is not possible in a couple of years. They agreed that the people were impatient and that when their generation will be in power, things will go different. But what if you don't have time to wait for that? Their parents fought the revolution and had hope, but things still haven't gotten better. Wouldn't you get impatient?
Their prime-minister released a statement saying that the demonstration was a coup from the opposition. Claiming they organized it to overturn the government. By doing so he diminished the power of the people and their anger. They used brutal violence against peaceful protesters who came from all over Europe to make their statement. They want Romania to change, and this government is not doing it yet. The young people I spoke to were upset about the violence but not surprised. They had a political opinion, but told me that they do not speak about it that often. They want the politicians to change, but don’t know how. They look at the West and see their future. I opposed that last. Their future should not be for example like the Dutch system, it should be better. As they are in the middle of the process, it is this generation that can come up with creative and new ideas about how to organize their society and politics.
At the end of the Walking tour in Bucharest the guide told us to sit down. And as we made ourselves comfortable at the stairs of the University in Bucharest, he started to show us everyday live during the communist area. And as he did, some passers by stopped and listened along. He went further and told us about the revolution, the brave priest in Timisoara and how it led to the revolution. And when he ended that now Romania is a capitalist democracy, this other young guy walked by and laughed. The guide said: ‘ I know why he is laughing. Because on paper we are cause you can change the system easily, but to change the morality… that is much harder’.