Corruption

Romania Has Essentially Made Political Corruption Legal

So, of course, thousands of people took to the streets of Bucharest to protest.

by Mihai Popescu
Feb 2 2017, 5:11pm

This article originally appeared on VICE Romania.

Top image by Răzvan Băltărețu

On Wednesday night, a fight between soccer hooligans and special police forces interrupted a protest of about 150,000 people in the Romanian capital of Bucharest. The former had started throwing torches and ice at police and other protesters, which led to several people ending up with head injuries. A German freelance reporter was detained during the protest.

More than 150,000 people protesting in front of the seat of the Romanian government in Bucharest on Wednesday evening. Photo by Iulia Roșu

The protests started after the current Romanian government passed a law making it almost impossible to convict people in political office for abuse of power. This has all but officially legalized corruption in the Eastern European country. The law also implies that thousands of prison sentences will be commuted—especially those of politicians sentenced for corruption and misappropriating millions in public funds.

Anticorruption expert Laura Ștefan told VICE Romania that "the main beneficiary of this law is Liviu Dragnea," the leader of the current ruling party PSD. Dragnea was convicted of organizing electoral fraud in the 2012 presidential impeachment referendum, and this new law will absolve him of that crime and allow him to return to public office.

Hooligans set fire to plastic objects around Victoriei Square in Romania. Photo by Răzvan Băltărețu

Another rule under the new law is that you cannot report a crime more than six months after the fact. That means it will be a lot harder for people to come forward and report a crime they witnessed, but did not want to report for personal reasons.

Protesters watch the confrontation between riot police and hooligans taking over their march. Photo by Răzvan Băltărețu

Romanians have been protesting these special government decrees for more than two weeks. Because of the unrest, government officials were wary of discussing the law during a normal legislative session and passed it on Tuesday night during what was announced as a debate on the national budget.

That same night, about 15,000 people gathered in the cold in front of the seat of the government in Bucharest to protest. When Florin Iordache—the minister of justice—was asked in a press conference that evening why this law was passed so quickly, he refused to answer and asked if there were any other questions.

Photo by Ioana Epure

On Wednesday, ten times as many people as on Tuesday gathered together in Bucharest. But Romanians in other cities in the country and around Europe (like Berlin, London, Paris, and Brussels) took to the streets, too, bringing the estimated total number of protesters to 300,000. These protests are the largest the country has seen in 20 years. Several European leaders have warned the Romanian government that backtracking on corruption will hurt the country. Unfortunately, so far, that doesn't seem to have made much of an impression.

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