More than 150,000 people came out on to Bucharest’s streets last night to demonstrate against Romania’s government. The same number again took part in protests elsewhere in the country. In the capital, the protests ended in sporadic violence after a handful of football hooligans armed with flares and fireworks began to attack the gendarmes at around 22:45. The gendarmes replied with tear gas, and a number of charges into the crowd which quickly cleared the square.
Until then, the protesters had been impeccably behaved (and so, it has to be said, had the gendarmes). There was plenty of shouting and booing and pushing and shoving but it was all good natured. People were serving tea from huge urns. The vast majority of protesters were young: under 35, although we saw protesters of all ages, from pensioners to young children.
And then the hooligans turned up, apparently from Dinamo Bucharest (whose financier Ionut Negoita is the brother of Sector 3’s mayor, Robert Negoita. Both have legal issues). It has been claimed that the violence was deliberately designed to provoke a response from the gendarmes, break up and discredit the protest and dissuade people from returning tonight. This may be the case but it is difficult to prove it without confirmation from those involved. What we do know is that the intelligence service, the SRI, had information that such a diversion was being prepared and passed it on to the Interior Ministry, which did nothing.
Too much is happening to dwell on who was responsible, but we will say this: the protest would never have become violent without the presence of a handful (20-30) of hooligans.
What else has been going on?
Well, Liviu Dragnea did not appear in public all day. A wave of sternly-worded warnings from European institutions and officials arrived on the prime minister Sorin Grindeanu’s desk. Grindeanu claimed that the EU ‘does not understand’ what is happening in Romania, and said he would ‘write to those people who require an explanation.’ The European Parliament meantime will debate the situation in Romania when it meets today. The USR began to act like a genuine opposition yesterday, with a concerted campaign of civic disobedience which ended with the party’s MPs spending the night in the parliamentary chamber. Earlier they had forced Justice Minister Florin Iordache to cut short a press conference:
The Council of Magistrates (CSM) said it would challenge the emergency ordinances passed on Tuesday night in the Constitutional Court, although the Avocatul Poporului (Ombudsman) Victor Ciorbea said he wouldn’t, despite having been asked to do so by President Klaus Iohannis. Ciorbea’s excuse is that he is not allowed to challenge the ordinance. It is not clear if the CSM has the competency to do so either, but it hasn’t stopped them. A junior PSD minister, Florin Jianu, resigned this morning saying that he could no longer remain in a government which ‘lacked honour’. A former PSD minister, Aurelia Cristea (who first drafted the anti-smoking legislation) resigned from the party.
What happens today?
Lord knows. More protests tonight, that’s for certain. It will be interesting to see how many people are put off after last night’s scuffles. We estimate an even bigger turnout.
Oh, and there is a rumour that tomorrow the government intends to announce that it is merging the DNA (anti-corruption) with DIICOT (anti-organised crime). No prizes for guessing that the boss of the new organisation will not be Laura Codruta Kovesi.
Finally, a quick thought.
This all feels like the last days of a brutal dictatorship, and yet the government is just a month old: just shows you how much they have utterly screwed things up.