When the government of Romanian PM Sorin Grindeanu announced that they would gut the country's anticorruption statutes, removing criminal sanctions for official corruption, the country erupted into mass protests.
The Romanian public saw Grindeanu protecting dozens of members of his own government who are facing a corruption investigation, changing the law so that they could escape prison for selling the country out. Hundreds of thousands of protesters flooded to the streets in 70 cities, eventually winning a reversal in the policy.
Protesters are still massing, demanding Grindeanu's resignation.
These are the biggest protests since the fall of the Stalinist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu in 1989, and the movement has developed a style that is familiar to anti-establishment protests around the world, from the Bulgarian and Polish MPs who sported Guy Fawkes masks during key ACTA votes to the meme-friendly signs of the Women's March to Bernie Sanders waving a giant, printed Trump-tweet on the Senate floor to all the deplorable Pepes.
But as is often the case with Romanian culture, there is a unique, multicultural, polyglot character to Romanian protests, which Henry Rammelt writes well about in Euronews.
The current situation is largely in line with this succession of anti-establishment protests that together are shaping, more and more, a specifically Romanian culture of protest. A culture of protest that is still developing, and that is, in many regards, different from those of most Western European countries, in that it is less conflictual and makes use of very up-to-date repertoires of dissent. One encounters here a humorous approach to protesting – one that makes fun of political adversaries, notably PSD president Liviu Dragnea, with funny custom-made posters, video projections on buildings, puppets – as symbolic representations of discontent. This generation's discovery of politics and protests as the preferred channel to interact with the political system coincides with current technological developments, enabling a leaderless, spontaneous, and all-inclusive movement. The protests of 2017 appear to conform very well to modern forms of engagement. Many of the slogans and signs displayed resemble Facebook status messages or Tweets, a form of mobilisation appropriate to communicate with and within "broader lifestyle publics". In brief, protests in Romania tend to have more elements of fun, and to place more of an emphasis on personal networks than on actual ideology. "Distractie placuta!" ("Have a good time") is not seldom exchanged between groups of people passing each other by on their way to and from the protests.
This relational aspect of mobilisation is bolstered by a modern and active civil society, and by non-mainstream journalistic initiatives arising in response to an ever-increasing public thirst for information. At the same time, pluralism of opinion does not seem to be as highly-valued as the demand for a "civilised" country would suggest. Following minor clashes with the police by a group described as "agitators, unaffiliated" with the protests, who were throwing firecrackers and snowballs during the night of February 1, several online conflicts among protesters emerged around the best approaches to engaging with law enforcement. The current protests reveal that this new generation resonates particularly well with messages underlining the divide between the way politics have until now been done in Romania and the present expectations of belonging to a "well-mannered European society".
⬆️The Romania crowd glows because people have phones in their hand. 21st century networked protest, the ever-present digital layer. pic.twitter.com/SEQOC7LAPX
— Zeynep Tufekci (@zeynep) February 6, 2017
How Romania is developing its own culture of protest: view [Henry Rammelt/Euronews] (Google cache)
(Image: Zeynep Tufekci)