Tens of thousands of people are expected to attend a demonstration in Bucharest on Saturday, exactly one year after the August 10, 2018 events when riot police intervened brutally to put an end to anti-government protests. Things have changed politically for the past 12 months but the situation within the society remains dire for the opponents of the current government and little has been done to sanction the authorities responsible with the violence a year ago.
- Meanwhile, politicians make tactical moves over the Saturday protests
Organisers of the demonstration scheduled to take place in Bucharest expect about 250,000 participants. Protests are also organised in major cities across the country, including Iasi, Cluj, Craiova, Brasov, Satu Mare, Constanta.
Some 100,000 people joined the protest a year ago against a wave of attacks by the governing coalition on the judiciary and the fight against corruption. The coalition led by the Social Democrats (PSD) under the strong armed leadership of Liviu Dragnea, himself the recipient of a corruption-related sentence, had been putting massive pressure on the Justice system.
The August 10, 2018 protest, organised months in advance by the Romanian diaspora, was aimed to be a culmination of street demonstrations against the government.
But Gendarmes took advantage of actions by small group of violent protesters to react brutally to disperse the crowds. They used water cannons, tear gas and clubs to attack the people, with hundreds needing medical care.
A criminal inquiry into the actions of the riot police has been launched since, but is stagnating. Top Gendarmerie officials who have been accused of orchestrating the violent intervention against protesters have been moved from one position to another.
Top state and administration officials, including PM Viorica Dancila, then-Interior minister Carmen Dan and Bucharest mayor Gabriela Firea all escaped direct repercussions due to their leaving their jobs for vacations or trips away, during the protest. Carmen Dan was involved in the coordination of the police actions, though.
What has changed since August 10, 2018
The events a year ago were a cornerstone of the changes Romania has gone through since the PSD, under Liviu Dragnea, claimed a landslide victory in the 2016 general elections.
Since then, though, the PSD government faced increased domestic and international resistance to their attempts to subdue the judiciary. While some of their moves went through, others were stifled politically and institutionally.
And several months ago, just after the European elections where the PSD suffered severe losses, ex-PSD leader Liviu Dragnea was sentenced to prison in one of his more recent corruption-related cases.
Changes were made at government level, including the departure of Carmen Dan from the Interior ministry.
- PM Dancila, whom he had pushed forward as a puppet prime minister, managed to take over as party leader. Still, a more recent court action saw Dragnea challenging Dancila's move to become president of the party.
Dancila and her government, post-Dragnea, put an end to actions aimed at subduing the judiciary. But they continued ongoing populist measures aimed at strengthening public support before the wave of elections of 2019-2020, including a wave of populist spending criticised as unsustainable.
Black swan - murder in a small town
More recently, her government suffered a major blow with the crisis caused by the suspected murder of teenage girls in Southern Romania - the so-called Caracal case. The police - along with prosecutors and a special telecoms service - caused uproar with their failure to intervene and help a teenager, despite her repeated calls to announce she had been abducted and rape in the town of Caracal. She was eventually murdered, as her suspected captor confessed.
The event, linked to moves by the PSD to support convicts and criminals, led to accusations that the government has led to a "failed state" incapable to protect its citizens.
Now, citizens are gathering again to protest the government.
- And Bucharest mayor Gabriela Firea is again leaving office, temporarily putting her deputy mayor in charge.
- New Interior minister Mihai Fifor promises the events on Saturday would not run astray and asks people to protests peacefully.
- And President Klaus Iohannis and his supporting Liberals, who oppose the governing Social Democrats, launched Iohannis's candidacy for presidential election later this year on Thursday.