2017 Romanian protests

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2017 Romanian protests
22 January Romanian protest Piata Victoriei.jpg
Demonstrations in front of Victoria Palace, seat of the Romanian government, on 22 January 2017
Date 18 January 2017–present
Location
Goals
  • Withdrawal of the government decrees that pardon some crimes and modify criminal code provisions regarding abuse of power
  • Resignation of the government
  • Early elections
Methods
Status Ongoing
Concessions
given
  • Withdrawal of the decrees that started the protests (Feb 5)
  • Resignation of Minister of Justice Florin Iordache (Feb 8)
Number
Jan 18: 5,000
Jan 22: 30,000
Jan 29: 90,000
Jan 31: 37,000
Feb 1: 300,000
Feb 2: 222,000
Feb 3: 325,000
Feb 4: 366,000
Feb 5: 500,000 to 600,000
Feb 6: 53,000
Feb 7: 15,600
Feb 8: 17,000
Feb 9: 11,000
Feb 10: 14,500
Feb 11: 11,500
Feb 12: 80,000 to 102,000
Feb 19: 6,700
Feb 26: 5,000
Counter-protests supporting the government:





Feb 5: up to 2,500
Feb 6: 4,000[2]
Feb 7: 1,000
Feb 8: 400
Feb 9: 500
Feb 10: 500
Feb 11: 500
Feb 12: 1,000
Casualties
Injuries 5 injured
Arrested 79

In January 2017, days after the government of the Grindeanu Cabinet was sworn into office in Romania, protests took place throughout the country against ordinance bills that were proposed by the Romanian Ministry of Justice regarding the pardoning of certain committed crimes, and the amendment of the Penal Code of Romania (especially regarding the abuse of power).[3]

Despite the negative reactions from both the judicial institutions and the public, the newly sworn-in government secretly[4] approved an ordinance modifying the Penal Code and Penal Procedure Code during the night of 31 January.[5] Opponents raised accusations that the ordinance was intended for decriminalisation of government corruption, and to help hundreds of current and former politicians to escape ongoing criminal investigations or prison sentences.[6]

Immediately after it was announced that the ordinance was passed, more than 25,000 people protested that night. The protests swelled the next day to over 300,000 people throughout the country, making the protests the largest since the fall of Communism and the overthrowing of Nicolae Ceaușescu.[7] The protests have been continuing on a daily basis since then and they reached their peak on 5 February when between 500,000 and 600,000 people protested throughout the country, thus making them the largest in Romania's history.[8][9]

So far, protestors have succeeded in compelling the government to withdraw the contested ordinance (subject to approval from the Romanian parliament),[10] and Florin Iordache, who as justice minister was formally responsible for putting forward the ordinance, has resigned over the scandal that ensued.[11]

Background

Although the government of Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu repeatedly denied that there were government ordinance bills regarding the pardoning and amnesty of committed crimes, there were strong rumors in the media that the government intended to pass such bills on 18 January 2017, mere days after the government was sworn in.[12] Since the government did not publish the government meeting's agenda for that day, the President of Romania, Klaus Iohannis, took it upon himself to attend and preside over the meeting, as envisioned by Article 87 of the Constitution of Romania.[13] After a private meeting between the president, the prime minister and the justice minister, the government meeting was convened and presided over by the president together with the prime minister.[13] Despite the prime minister's initial attempt to block the press' attendance and subsequent avoidance of the subject, the president announced to the media that there were two bills regarding the pardoning of crimes and the amendment of the Penal Code of Romania.[14] He further announced that the prime minister assured him that these ordinances would not be passed without a transparent process, which included consulting with the relevant judicial institutions, as well as the public.[13]

Soon after the government meeting, the Ministry of Justice published the bills on its website and sent them to the relevant judicial institutions for consultations. The government's main stated reason for these bills was that prisons were overcrowded and in order to avoid paying a fine to the European Court of Human Rights, such measures were needed to improve the conditions in prisons.[15]

After analyzing the provisions in the bills, the judicial institutions (including the High Court of Cassation and Justice, the Public Prosecutor's Office, the Superior Council of the Magistracy and the National Anticorruption Directorate) issued negative opinions on the proposed bills, generally stating that the laws would not achieve their stated goals and would rather undermine both the criminal justice system and the fight against corruption.[16]

Civil society and certain media outlets also took a similar stance against the bills, and claimed that the government's reasoning for these bills conceals an intent to pardon convicted politicians and cease ongoing cases against accused politicians.[15]

Protests

January 18

Several thousand Romanians began protests against the reported plans to grant prison pardons and decriminalize certain offences.[17][18] Impromptu protests in a few cities were organised on social media against the proposed bills.[19]

Around 5,000 people protested throughout Romania, with nearly 4,000 protesters in Bucharest marching from University Square to the government's seat in Victory Square.[20] Smaller protests were held in the cities of Cluj, Sibiu, Iasi and Craiova.[18]

January 22

Following a mobilisation on social media after the initial protest, over 30,000 people protested on 22 January in Bucharest.[21] President Klaus Iohannis participated in the event in order to show his solidarity with the protesters, and announced to reporters that "a gang of politicians who have problems with the law want to change the legislation and weaken the state of law, and this is inadmissible ... Romanians are rightly indignant."[15] Liviu Dragnea, the leader of Romania's Social Democratic Party (PSD), reacted by accusing Iohannis of leading a Mineriad and labelling the protests as the beginning of a coup.[3] The leader of the party Save Romania Union (USR), Nicușor Dan, and interim leader of the National Liberal Party (PNL), Raluca Turcan, were also present at the protest in support of the protesters.[22]

Over 5,000 people also participated at the protests in Cluj-Napoca, and another 4,000 protesters in Timisoara (together with the city's mayor).[23][24] There were also notable protests in Sibiu, Iasi, Brasov, Bacau and Constanta, as well as solidarity meeting in Copenhagen, Paris, London and Haugesund.[25]

January 29

Protesters in University Square, Bucharest, 29 January 2017

In what was described as "the largest protest after the Revolution",[26] tens of thousands of people took again to the streets in Romania's main cities. Over 50,000 people were attending the protest in Bucharest, while several tens of thousands of protesters were registered across the rest of the country. For instance, some 10,000 people took to the streets in Cluj-Napoca.[27] In total, over 90,000 people attended the protests, according to an estimate by Digi24 TV station.[26] In Bucharest, the crowd of protesters gathered in the center of the city, at University Square, and went on a peaceful march that included planned stops at the media watchdog CNA, the Ministry of Justice, the HQ of the Ombudsman and the government.[28] Solidarity marches took place in several countries abroad, with the largest reported in Brussels, Paris, London, Rome and Copenhagen.[29][30]

January 31

After the Grindeanu Cabinet approved the aforementioned emergency ordinances on Tuesday evening, thus turning them into laws, an impromptu protest took place at Piața Victoriei in front of Victoria Palace, the government seat. Although the government meeting's agenda only included the approval of the proposed 2017 budget, the cabinet secretly introduced and approved the ordinance bills during the meeting that evening. Once the Justice Minister of Romania, Florin Iordache, announced to the press that evening that the bills had been approved, a protest started taking place 30 minutes afterwards.[31] Within two hours, the protest swelled to 15,000 people despite the late hours and cold weather.[31] Due to the small initial presence of the gendarmes, the Victoria Palace was completely surrounded by the protesters and the main entrances blocked (although the people inside managed to leave through other entrances).[31] The protest only subsided by 2 am.[31] Unlike the previous protests, the people participating were visibly more riled up considering the lack of transparency and the lack of consideration of the Romanian society's reactions by the government and PSD. As a result, the protesters were calling for the government's resignation.[31]

Thousands of people also came out to protest in other cities throughout Romania against the ordinances adopted by the government: Cluj-Napoca (5,000), Timișoara (1,500), Sibiu (2,000), Brașov (1,500), Iași (500), Ploiești (100) and Constanța (100).[32]

February 1

As a result of the government refusing to repeal the ordinances, the protests continued from the day before with 230,000 to 300,000 people participating throughout the country.[33] So far, these were the largest protests in Romania since the fall of Communism. The calls for the repeal of the ordinances, as well as for the resignation of the government, continued.[33] Around 150,000 people peacefully protested in Bucharest.[7] However, later on during the night, the protest was hijacked by hooligans from CS Dinamo București who attacked the Gendarmerie, as well as protesters trying to stop them, resulting in five injuries.[34] The Gendarmerie were successful in containing the hooligans to one section of Piata Victoriei, thus peaceful protesters were not forced to leave. There have been so far unfounded accusations that the hooligans were sent by the owner of FC Dinamo București, Ionuț Negoiță, and his brother, Robert Negoiță, both of whom are PSD members, and who would benefit from the ordinances, due to their criminal cases.[35]

The rest of the protests throughout the country were started and ended peacefully, with the participation being as follows: Cluj-Napoca: 35,000, Timișoara: 20,000, Sibiu: 20,000, Iași: 10,000, Brașov: 8,000, Târgu-Mureş: 6,000, Constanța: 5,000, Bacău: 6,000, Alba Iulia: 5,000, Craiova: 4,000, Galați: 3,500, Arad: 2,500, Mediaş: 2,000, and Brăila: 1,000.[7]

There were also protests in cities through Europe with large Romanian immigrant communities, mostly in London, Paris, Munich, Brussels, Dublin, Turin, Copenhagen and Stockholm.[36]

February 2–4

On February 2, over 200,000 people protested, with 80,000 in Bucharest.[37] On February 3, over 300,000 people continued protest, with 150,000 in Bucharest.[38] On February 4, over 330,000 people continued protest, with 170,000 in Bucharest.[39][40]

February 5

Protesters in Victoria Square, Bucharest, 5 February. The text seen on the placard roughly translates as: "The miners 'has' arrived".

Although the Grindeanu Cabinet adopted a new ordinance bill repealing the original bill, between 500,000 and 600,000 people came out to protest, thus making the protests the largest in Romania's history.[8][9] The uncertain constitutionality of the new ordinance, as well as the refusal of the government to meet any other demands (resignation of the justice minister, resignation of the cabinet, and new elections), led the protesters to question the government's determination and the finality of the matter. Furthermore, Prime Minister Grindeanu stated that the government will try instead to pass the majority of the content from the original ordinance in a new bill through Parliament (where PSD and ALDE have a comfortable majority), angering protesters further. According to estimates by Digi 24, 300,000 people were present at the protest in Bucharest, followed by Cluj-Napoca (50,000), Sibiu (45,000), Timișoara (40,000), Iași (30,000), Brașov (10,000), Craiova (10,000), Baia Mare (8,000), Constanța (7,000), Oradea (5,000) and Bacău (5,000).[8] Hotnews.ro provided a lower estimate for Bucharest, of 250,000.[9]

After February 5

Up to 50,000 people continued to protest on February 6 asking for the resignation of Grindeanu Cabinet, with between 20,000 and 25,000 protesting in front of the Government's building in Bucharest, and some other 25,000 protesters around the country.[41][42]

Up to 15,000 people protested throughout the country with 8,000 in Bucharest on February 7, and on February 8, over 9,000 protesters in Bucharest and 8,000 in the rest of the country.[43]

February 12 was the 13th consecutive day of protests, with 50,000 to 70,000 people protesting in front of the Victoria Palace, and 30,000 to 33,000 protesting elsewhere throughout the country, of which 10,000 to 14,000 protested in Cluj-Napoca, 7,000 to 10,000 in Sibiu, 3,000 to 5,000 in Timisoara, 3,000 in Iasi, 1,500 in Brasov, 500 in Constanta, 400 in Craiova, 300 in Galati, and 300 in Oradea.[44][45][46]

Counterprotests

Protest in front of Cotroceni Palace on February 7

Starting with the afternoon of February 5, a much smaller crowd of people rallied in support of the Grindeanu government at Cotroceni Palace. Between 1,500 and 2,500 people rallied, demanded the resignation of President Klaus Iohannis.[47] The following day, around 4,000 counter-protesters also met in front of Cotroceni Palace,[48] and up to 1,000 people on February 7.[citation needed]

As snowy weather swept Bucharest of February 8, President Iohannis went out to meet the 100 people protesting in front of the Cotroceni Palace against his presidency, in order to speak with them and give them tea. He told the protesters that "we are all Romanians", as a response to many protesters claiming he is against the Romanian population due to his German ethnicity. The dialogue quickly broke down as protesters were shouting against him, uninterested in establishing a discussion, and he left soon after. The anti-Iohannis protest attracted 400 people that day.[49]

On February 12, the pro-government/anti-Iohannis protest continued for its 9th day with 400 protesters.[43]

Reactions

Klaus Iohannis

After receiving negative opinions from the judicial institutions regarding the government ordinance bills, President of Romania Klaus Iohannis stated on 20 January that the presidency requested the government to withdraw the government proposals.[50]

Following the protests on 22 January, Klaus Iohannis announced that he would call for a referendum in order for the public opinion to have a say on these controversial issues.[51] He rebutted Dragnea's claims of a coup by declaring that PSD was attempting a coup d'état against the rule of law in the country, and that Romanians had the right to vote on these issues, especially since they were not part of PSD's electoral programme upon which they won the 2016 parliamentary elections.[51]

Liviu Dragnea

Liviu Dragnea stated on 23 January that the President's attendance at the government meeting on 18 January was unconstitutional, and that he was attempting a coup against a democratically elected government by participating (and "leading") the protest on 22 January.[52] Furthermore, he stated that the President has been insistent in blocking the implementation of PSD's electoral programme, and that the president's actions risked the possibility of his suspension by the Parliament.[52]

Romanian government

Despite the negative reactions from the relevant judicial institutions, as well as the massive protests that took place throughout the country, the Grindeanu Cabinet, especially Florin Iordache (Justice Minister), repeatedly restated their position in favour of the bills.[53][54] However, before 1 February, Florin Iordache was seemingly backing down by leaning towards the option of the laws not being passed as Emergency Government Ordinances, but rather being sent to Parliament after the public consultations and modifications have been made.[55]

On 31 January 2017, the Grindeanu Cabinet had a meeting during the evening and the published agenda announced that the 2017 Budget will be discussed and passed.[4][56] However, the emergency ordinance bill regarding the modification of the Penal Code and Penal Procedure Code was introduced during the meeting, even though it was not listed in the agenda, nor the supplementary agenda list.[4] During the meeting, the emergency government ordinance was passed by the government.[4] A mere five hours after its approval, the ordinance was published in the Monitorul Oficial (the government gazette), thus turning the bill into law.[57] The law were barely modified since the initial draft, and in fact certain aspects of crimes were decriminalised, such as limiting the crime of "favouring the offender", which were not included the initial draft during public consultations.[58] The lack of transparency in passing the bill, as well as the final form of the law, has been interpreted as a lack of consideration of the reactions received by the government and PSD from various parts of Romanian society.[59]

On 5 February, due to the pressure of the ongoing protests, the Grindeanu Cabinet adopted a new ordinance (OUG 14/2017) repealing the original bill (OUG 13/2017) that modified the Penal Code and Penal Procedure Code. However, questions surrounding the new ordinance's constitutionality arose, which were affirmed by Justice Minister Iordache the following day when he stated that the intent was to bring the two Codes back to their prior form (including the resulting unconstitutionalities).[10] Furthermore, Prime Minister Grindeanu stated that the government will instead try to pass the content from the original ordinance in a new bill through Parliament (where PSD and ALDE have a comfortable majority).[60] Other than that, the government refused to meet any other demands that day, such as the resignation of the cabinet.[61]

On 6 February, the Ministry of Justice announced that the intended bill for modifying the two Codes would not be drafted and sent to Parliament for the time being.[62]

On 8 February, the Minister of Justice, Florian Iordache, announced his resignation with immediate effect due to the scandal that ensued from the controversial ordinance that modified the two penal codes.[11]

Constitutional Court

The Superior Council of Magistracy (CSM), as well as the Presidency, notified the Constitutional Court on 1 and 2 February respectively that there was a constitutional conflict between the relevant institutions (government, parliament and CSM) with regards to the procedure chosen by the government to pass the controversial ordinance.[63]

On 8 February, the Constitutional Court ruled the following: "A constitutional conflict did not exist between the Executive Power (Government) and the Legislative (Parliament), because the Government decision to adopt the Government ordinance bills regarding the modification of the Penal Code and the Penal Procedural Code cannot be qualified as an act of arrogation of legislative powers that otherwise belongs to the Parliament. By adopting the Government ordinance bills, the Government acted in accordance with its own competences, as expressly provided in Art. 117 of the Constitution. ... A constitutional conflict did not exist between the Executive Power and the Supreme Council of the Magistracy (CSM), because the Government does not have legal obligation to request approval from the CSM for such ordinances."[63]

Embassies

The embassies of Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Netherlands and the United States released a strong-worded statement against the passing of the ordinances, both in terms of how it was passed, as well as their content.[64] The statement explained that these actions have undermined the rule of law and stifled the fight against corruption.[64] They further explained that the government's actions risk damaging Romania's partnership with the European Union and NATO.[64]

American Chamber of Commerce

The American Chamber of Commerce in Romania (AmCham) issued a statement which said that "[i]t is extremely worrying for the business community and society as a whole, that legislative pieces with such moral, societal and economic implications with immediate and long term effects are adopted by the government without observing the minimum requirements of transparency in decision-making".[65]

See also

References

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  59. ^ Ionut Baias (1 February 2017). "Sefa CSM despre OUG:Consider periculos si nedemocratic acest demers lipsit de respect fata de transparenta decizionala". HotNews. 
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  61. ^ Corina Ionel (5 February 2017). "Premierul Grindeanu: Demisia guvernului nu intra in calculele noastre. Situatia lui Iordache se va lamuri dupa ce-si sustine bugetul in Parlament. Modificarile la Coduri sunt absolut necesare". HotNews. 
  62. ^ Digi24 (6 February 2017). "Răsturnare de situație: Guvernul renunță la modificarea Codului Penal". Digi24. 
  63. ^ a b "COMUNICAT DE PRESĂ". www.ccr.ro (in Romanian). Retrieved 2017-02-08. 
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  65. ^ "AmCham Romania: The lack of transparency in adopting legislative changes sends a strong negative wave of mistrust and uncertainty, internally and externally – AmCham". 1 February 2017. Retrieved 7 February 2017. 
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