Romania: when the population turns against the populists


What happens when the population turns against the populists? Just such a drama is playing out in Romania, a country of 20 million people where hundreds of thousands have poured into the streets in the biggest mass protests since the end of communism, analyst Anna Nemtsova writes for The Daily Beast:

Romanians wanted to move forward, away from their repressive communist past: the period from 1947 to 1989 when people were too terrified to join any political protests. In recent years, the Romanian street has brought down governments. But the shadow of the old Iron Curtain imposed by Russia has remained over the country, clouding its future.

The protests amount to a political awakening that could help halt or reverse the encroachment of Putin—inspired populism, observers suggest.

Alina Mungiu-Pippidi

“Any politician saying the words, ‘I am pro-Putin’ is dead in Romania, but Putin’s spirit is quietly creeping in, being imported,” says Sorin Ionia, an analyst with the Expert Forum. Going back to anti-democratic methods of rule was exactly why people protested on Victoriei Square, says Ionia.

From protest to politics

Some observers said that they saw the potential for these protests to develop into a more long-term movement, The New York Times reports.

“The success of these protests, resulting in the withdrawal of the ordinance, has boosted the most active of the protesters in their commitment to a more sustained and permanent kind of organization,” said Sergiu Miscoiu, a professor of political science at Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj. “This involves maybe only a quarter or even a tenth of last Sunday’s demonstrators, but it will be enough to put pressure on the government,” he said.

10 Days That Shook Romania

Protests have become a regular instrument in the hands of citizens of various ideological backgrounds. Can this new routinization of non-confrontational forms of civic action lead to a society of social movements? In countries like Romania, where democratic societies have decided to face their inner demons head-on, this may very well be the case, according to the University of Bucharest’s Marius Stan and the University of Maryland’s Vladimir Tismaneanu, a member of the Advisory Committee to the NED’s Penn Kemble Democracy Forum:

Over the past 10 days, Romanians have tossed around ideas about citizens’ councils and alternative models of democratic representation. This movement acknowledges the modern subject’s inner conflicts and rejects the old revolutionary shibboleths. A major shift is happening in civil society, and we ought to explore its dynamics and repercussions….. At a historical juncture when populist demagogues are questioning the very future of the European Union, one of its small bordering countries is saying: Yes, we belong!

But Romania is” far from being a success story,” said Alina Mungiu-Pippidi [above – a contributor to the National Endowment for Democracy’s Journal of Democracy]. “We ended impunity, we managed to put in jail very important people. But the problem is that corruption has not gone down — people who replaced those people behave similarly.”

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