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.
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