About 150,000 protesters were reported in Bucharest’s Victoriei Square in front of the seat of government late on 1st February and rallies took place in other Rumanian towns and cities. Issued in the dead of night last month, an emergency decree was passed making the crime of abusing power punishable only if the sum exceeded 200,000 lei (£37,600).

Protesters were claiming that this decree attempted to release government allies convicted of corruption. Romanian Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu said that it was needed to ease overcrowding in prisons. The situation would be tense as the current government, led by Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu of the Social Democratic Party (PSD), only returned to power in December after protests forced its last leader from power in October 2015.

More protesters were gathering in the street and squares in the following days. Chants of “Thieves! Resign!” were heard during the demonstrations in Victoriei Square. In solidarity with them, demonstrations also took place in front of Romanian embassies abroad. The government gave in to the pressure and repealed the controversial decree. As responsible for putting forward the ordinance, Justice minister Florin Iordache resigned but demands were extended to the resign of the whole government and greater accountability in the political system.

Extreme weather conditions put in peril the attendance in demonstrations through last week. Fewer protesters wrote the word ‘resist’ on the snow and made snowmen. However, the number of protesters rose up last weekend. Around 50,000 Romanians took part in the massive march in Victoriei Square last Sunday. They turned on the lights of their cell-phones while standing under coloured papers to create a giant Romanian flag.

After the largest demonstrations since the ousting and summary execution of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989, 310 parliamentarian lawmakers voted in favour of the referendum proposed by the President, Klaus Iohannis. It is not clear what question will be made to voters but this was seen a good step towards genuine fight against corruption.

The background of these protests is that the ruling party Social Democratic Party (PSD) is the successor of the National Salvation Front (FSN), which itself is also successor to the Ceausescu’s Communist Party. Some of its party members therefore preserve that attitude of creating an image of external enemies to those who present any difference to their ideology or government action.

The current centre-right Romanian President has been closer to protester’s demands and find a political solution. Regardless of any party interest, he has been a scapegoat for most of the Social Democratic Party (PSD). Although it is not exclusively in Romania, the challenge is to have a political system –that includes but not only political parties- to be able to tackle corruption, watch over the general interest and reconnect with citizens’ concerns.

Joan Isus, Correspondent (Europe)