Protest culture

Post-communist Romania was apparently born under the sign of efficient protest. Protesters who confronted the regime were necessary (albeit not sufficient) for its downfall, this is a common-sense remark. At a more scrutinizing glance what stands out however is the ambiguity of the protest’s efficiency. The sole objective certainly attained was the removal of a tyrant. But what about all the other intentions that animated the protesters, to what extent did they come to fruition? The months that followed proved that the protest was not about to have an easy and transparent life in the new democracy. Its deceiving ambiguity had an effect on subsequent history. To such extent that we can ask ourselves: how efficient are protests in Romanian society? What was left of the protest phenomenon of the Universitatii Square in 1990, for example? A certain reticence towards Ion Iliescu’s party, whatever it was called, up to today’s PSD.

There is an electorate that constantly exercises its refusal to vote for and accept him. Some (like Traian Basescu) later speculated such feelings forged back then in the chaotic year of 1990. However, behind the “anti-communism” clamoured not long ago lies the call to the old anti-FSN (FSN being the first post-communist party that was dominant for a long time) and anti-Iliescu feelings, FSN and Iliescu being considered the profiteers and hijackers of the December 1989 revolt, the ones who laid the basis of a new system dominated by so many defects (galloping corruption, aggressive politicization, belated European integration). Moreover, President Iliescu’s regime “legitimized” itself through the concurrent protests of the miners concerned with the evolution towards neoliberal capitalism, who annihilated Bucharest’s protesters through terror (backed by the authorities). But violence didn’t do too much good to them either, because mining became more of a memory after several years. The age of trade union protests followed (corresponding to the period of privatizations – an important source of corruption). But since some trade union leaders moved too close to political circles their credibility went into somewhat of a crisis. So that trade union protests became rather final solutions in situations considered intolerable, no longer being part of strategic campaigns meant for less contextual social pressures. In what concerns the toppling of a government, the efficiency of protests really worked just one time. In early 2012, after a period of drastic austerity, Emil Boc left the Prime Minister’s office. What were the effects? President Basescu took advantage of the situation in order to launch the man who was at that hour a hope in the fight for the presidential succession – Mihai Razvan Ungureanu. And the protesters sent to office those whom they ended up contesting even more not long after that. Two winters ago the protests were the convergent effect of “hunger” and of the refusal of the old policy (considered authoritarian – the dissatisfaction erupted after the “abusive” sacking of Raed Arafat). Today’s protests seem to have lost both the salary demands connotations, as well as the party policy connotations. Still, the calls for “resignation” are not absent. President Basescu, an older supporter of the Rosia Montana project, was mostly targeted at first. Subsequently, because of the Premier’s U-turn, which saw him suddenly becoming an outspoken supporter, the protest more clearly turned against him too. On one hand today’s protesters want to avoid adopting a political position that would only serve to replace one politician with another. They militate for a target other than their own pocket, which ups the protest’s moral stake. Nevertheless, the calumnies coming from those contested denote certain concern. Not only that the mining project in Rosia Montana could continue to remain stuck, but the protests could raise USL’s unpopularity and lower its electoral score. There are several possibilities. The protests will die down after a certain time. The Premier will order a forceful intervention at some point. The protests will grow and will determine the dropping (at least temporarily) of any draft law that favours the mining project. The protests will become politically radicalized, possibly in conjunction with other discontent circles. However, apart from the scenario that will come to be, we can already ask ourselves: who are those that will use the protests for other purposes, becoming their real beneficiaries? And is such a “hijacking” inevitable? What the Romanian society lacks is a more coherent culture of protest. The protests are too few, too anaemic and too incoherent. Out of fear, laziness or indifference. Especially indifference, because many causes worthy of wider support fall short. Not to protest often means giving up responsibility by falling back to the vital space of survival. Like in December 1989, the alternative of watching “the televised revolution” comfortably from the armchair is still tempting. And so the curse of ambiguity will continue to undermine the efficiency of protests.

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