Tech & Rights

Romania's Biggest Protests in 25 Years Target Political Elites

After a fire at a nightclub in Bucharest leaves dozens dead, 70,000 people take to the streets of cities across Romania to protest against the corruption of political elites.

by Dollores Benezic
Image: Mihnea Ciulei - Flickr/CC content
For more than a week, Romania has been going through its worst social-political upheaval of the past 25 years. People are outraged by the corruption and indifference of the political class.

Two deadly incidents

The first incident that sparked the riots was the death of a policeman who was driving his motorbike at over 100 km per hour through Bucharest in order to open traffic for Minister of Interior Gabriel Oprea. The policeman fell into a pit and died on October 21. The incident generated heated debate about the legality of the convoy, which the minister was not entitled to under law. Minister Oprea refused to assume responsibility or resign.

On October 30, a fire started in the Colectiv nightclub in Bucharest following a rock concert, killing 45 people as of Monday and injuring over 150 others. Eighty of the injured (including four minors who are 15 years old, and all others being young people from 25 to 35 years old) are still in critical condition in 11 hospitals in Bucharest.

This drama sparked public anger, especially since the authorities refused to assume any responsibility. The club was authorized to operate by city authorities, although the performance at the club that night, which included fireworks, did not have approval from fire department officials.

Ponta resigns

After three days of mourning decreed by the government, Romanians took to the streets on November 3. Over 25,000 people protested in front of government buildings, demanding the resignation of the cabinet and of the mayor who allowed the nightclub to operate.

The next day, Prime Minister Victor Ponta announced the resignation of his cabinet. The day after this, protesters took to the streets in even larger numbers, demanding real action to fight corruption and change the entire political class. On Wednesday, November 4, over 70,000 people protested in the streets of cities across the country; 30,000 marched in Bucharest.

On November 5, the third day of protests, President Klaus Johannis initiated consultations with political parties to designate a new prime minister. To these consultations he also invited members of civil society and representatives of the protesters. This sparked more debate, as the street movements are spontaneous and do not yet have leaders.

Protests will continue

Romanians are determined to continue to take to the streets every night after 18:00, blocking the downtown areas of Bucharest and other major cities. While they seem to be caused by the two mentioned incidents where people died, these protests (which are the largest since the anticommunist revolution of 1989) are fueled by grievances accumulated over many years.

Many Romanian politicians and officials are under investigation for corruption, and some have been convicted. Some of them continue to occupy seats in Parliament or other government positions.

Other sinners

For the first time, the protests are also targeting the Orthodox Church, which had a hostile attitude in the aftermath of the nightclub fire, claiming the victims were Satanists because they were listening to rock music.

Protesters are calling for the resignation of the patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church and the imposition of taxes for the Church, which is one of the richest private institutions in Romania.

The situation is ongoing and we will continue to provide details.