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A Massive Protest Brought Down Romania’s Government Tuesday Night

Romania's Prime Minister and Bucharest's Mayor have resigned as a result of a 25,000-person protest calling for better safety standards after a nightclub fire killed 32 and injured 134 people.

by Mihai Popescu, Photos by Mircea Topoleanu
Nov 4 2015, 7:15pm

People holding pictures of their dead loved ones. They are asking for the resignation of all the corrupt political leaders in Romania. All photos by Mircea Topoleanu

This article originally appeared on VICE Romania.

Romania is in mourning following the Colectiv nightclub fire that killed 32 people and gravely wounded 134. The fire took place at a concert for the Romanian metal band Goodbye to Gravity in an underground venue in one of Bucharest's many former factories and was caused by the setting off of some small fireworks. However, the club's owners had insulated the warehouse with cheap, flammable material and only provided one exit, so once the fireworks ignited, people were trapped. The tragic fire has brought attention to Romania's shoddy safety laws, and has revealed that the government doesn't actually perform proper inspections on any of the country's clubs. Even the high-priced venues in the Old Town in Bucharest, usually filled with foreign tourists, could be considered death traps.

The city's collective grief exploded Tuesday night on the streets of Bucharest, when 25,000 people joined in protest against the local government. As a result, Romania's Prime Minister Victor Ponta was forced to resign, prompting an entire governmental shift. Bucharest's mayor who originally authorized the club also resigned.

Mourners lighting candles for the people who died, in University Square.

At the beginning of the action, thousands of protestors gathered in University Square, the same spot where young people died two decades earlier, fighting the communist dictatorship during the Romanian Revolution. The small number of local riot police troops stood aside as they marched in the streets towards the government buildings. Cars passing by protesters honked and raised the heavy metal hand sign in solidarity.

Protestors out in 46 degree weather, stand up for their dead loved ones.

In front of the government buildings, many protesters held out photos of their deceased loved ones. Some also held up banners with Goodbye to Gravity lyrics, as a statement against some Christian fundamentalists who have accused the victims of being satanists punished for celebrating Halloween.

A third of the protesters are kneeling in a moment of silence for the dead, while the rest of the march calls for the PM to resign.

Though several govenment-owned media outlets said that the protesters were being conducted by an invisible leader, the whole march seemed far too chaotic to be considered a well organized event. It was so large and it spread so far across Bucharest that, at one point, each area where the protest was taking place was involved in a different type of action. A third of the people were holding a moment of silence on their knees, while another third came behind them chanting "We want your resignations!", referring to the entire Romanian Government. The remaining third were booing the Ministry of Internal Affairs, where most of the riot police were stationed.

Next, the protest moved towards the People's House, dictator Ceausescu's former palace and Romania's current Parliament building. The building is protected by a large wall, which some of the younger protesters climbed, further defying the authorities. A few riot policemen guarding the Parliament building came to arrest them, but the protestors were protected by the rest of the group. Eventually the riot police gave up and left.

The Mayor's Office of Bucharest's Fourth Sector

After the Parliament building, the protest, still 25,000 strong, moved on to the Mayor's Office of Bucharest's Fourth Sector. The riot police surrounded the building and the entire protest almost devolved into chaos when someone from the crowd threw a plastic bottle and a firecracker at the Mayor's Office. Thankfully, the rest of the protesters remained calm. In the end, the general consensus among the protesters was that those who threw the firecrackers were plants trying to incite violence, as no one recognized them.

Even right-wing protesters booed the Patriarchal Palace

From the Mayor's Office, the crowd traveled to the Patriarchal Palace, the main religious building of the Romanian Christian Orthodox Faith. The Patriarch himself, the leader of the church, had previously refused to do any religious ceremony for the people who died at the concert and commented angrily to B1TV that "People should go to church, not to the club!"

This is what the people were doing, when Facebook spammers said they were being dispersed by riot policemen.

A lot of fake Facebook accounts spammed the protest's Facebook event, trying to convince the people that they were being manipulated by party members and that the riot policemen were planning to attack them. But the hack wasn't successful. At 11:30 PM, when the fake accounts said that the police had managed to disperse the protest, about three thousand young people were jumping with their fists held high, demanding "Justice!" in the middle of University Square. They held a giant Romanian flag and chanted: "We will not sell out our country!"

The protests will most likely continue this week, driven by the success of the first action. On Wednesday, people had already started gathering at University Square for another night of marching. Unfortunately, the politicians who resigned have simply been replaced by other, older politicians, from the same political parties, and no changes to the city's safety standards have been made. But the protesters are committed to their simple goal: to live, work, and party in places that are not horrible deathtraps.