Romania protests: No flash in the pan

Romania rarely features in international media, yet the scenes of mass demonstrations in Bucharest and other major cities last week may feel oddly familiar to Western TV audiences. Large-scale protests have been a major feature of Romania’s image in recent years, prompted by a variety of proximate causes.

In November 2015 it was the Colectiv nightclub fire, where lax enforcement of fire safety regulations contributed to the deaths of 64 people, while a year previously demonstrations were sparked by ‘irregularities’ in voting procedures for the presidential election. But in all cases public resentment of a political class seen as corrupt and self-serving has played a leading role.

This discontent has reached its zenith with the current protests – the largest since the fall of Communism – in response to a government proposal to amend the penal code. The decree, which effectively decriminalised low-level government corruption by exonerating embezzlement of up to €45,000, was passed without parliamentary debate in a late-night cabinet meeting on 31 January, sparking public demonstrations.

As the protests reached their peak, with over half a million taking to the streets, the law was scrapped at an emergency government meeting on Sunday 5 February, but demonstrations have continued, with protestors apparently unwilling to trust the government not to reinstate elements of the law in new legislation.

This first appeared on the website of the European Council on Foreign Relations. To continue reading, please click here.

(Photo: Paul Arne Wagner/



Alex Bivol

Alex Bivol is the Deputy Editor-in-Chief of The Sofia Globe.