Tens of thousands packed the Bucharest University Square in Bucharest on Sunday starting at 17:00 hrs to protest the planned pardon ordinance and the amendment of the Criminal Codes, chanting slogans, carrying tricolour banners and placards reading “Mandated to represent, not to abuse,” “Crime gang, off to court”, “NO to pardon, YES to schools and hospitals”, “Referendum”, “Stop Corruption”, “No convicts at rule!”,” Dragnea tatters Romania!”, “PSD – the red plague!”
The protesters marched to the Union Square and the Constitution Square, where they stopped at the National Audio-visual Council, the Palace of Parliament and the Justice Ministry, and then came back to the University Square. Around 20:30, they reached the Government seat in the Victoria Square. Half an hour later, after they demonstrated for about four hours against the draft emergency ordinances, protesters started leaving the Victoria Square.
According to some Gendarmerie sources, over 30,000 people participated in the demonstration.
No incidents were registered, according to law enforcement bodies. Worth mentioning is that gendarmes accompanied the demonstrators all the time, while using loudspeakers to call on the mass of people to observe public order and not turn violent.
PM Grindeanu: I closely watched opinions emerging from the protests, a lot of them are distorted
Sunday evening’s protests – the biggest in recent decades – did not leave politicians indifferent.
Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu “closely” watched the opinions which emerged following the protests against the amendments to criminal law, stating that a lot of them “had distortions.”
When asked on Sunday, on Antena3 private television station, for his reaction to Sunday evening’s protests, Grindeanu responded as follows: “I made a statement related to the protests of last week and I stated that I respect argued opinions. In Romania, it is a legal right to protest, as long as one does so in a peaceful manner and doesn’t disturb others, because if this boundary is crossed, we’ll enter a whole other area. (…) It’s the citizens’ right to do this, I respect their opinion. Moreover, I have seen and watched in this period the opinions which emerged from these protests, a lot of them can be labelled as having distortions, not to say anything else. Why? Because the source or the way they were presented mattered.”
According to Prime Minister Grindeanu, freedom of speech must be accompanied by “common sense.”
“I believe in freedom of speech, but this freedom of speech… (…) has to be accompanied by common sense. I don’t believe (…) too much in insults. For some time, and not necessarily in recent months, it looks like in Romania the pitch of voice is more important than the argument itself. (…) As I don’t believe in physical aggressiveness, I also don’t believe in verbal aggressiveness. In Romania, if one presents all of this correctly, with arguments and without a high pitch of voice, one is seen as being soft. I don’t think that arguments accompanied by aggressiveness – verbal aggressiveness, not speaking about anything else – must prevail. (…) A lot of times, this hyperbolizing of good and fanaticism in believing that what one thinks is right can lead to harm,” Grindeanu stated.
Furthermore, the Prime Minister stated that elections represent the best way to express a democratic point of view.
Tariceanu: We probably underestimated the establishment’s reaction
Senate Speaker Calin Popescu Tariceanu considers that Social Democratic Party (PSD) and Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE) “have underestimated the reaction of the establishment” when proposing the ordinances on the granting of pardons and the amending of Criminal Codes.
“I think we should have had certain preparation in advance, in terms of communication. It is a shortcoming for which I, as a co-participant in this coalition, take responsibility for. It is true that we did not anticipate what followed: the President’s raid at the governmental sitting, the street demonstration, the President who went among protesters to encourage them, and the continuation of the war. We have probably underestimated the reaction of the establishment. The trouble is too big as we see,” Tariceanu stated on Sunday on B1 TV private broadcaster.
Tariceanu explained that neither him nor Liviu Dragnea adopted a bellicose attitude.
“Neither Liviu Dragnea nor I adopted a bellicose attitude. Even from the Sevil Shhaideh moment we adopted a position that rather meant that we want to find a solution. (…) Iohannis is engaged in a life and death political fight because his mandate is at stake,” Tariceanu added.
He specified that the Government will continue despite having had “some shortcomings.”
“I had today a discussion not only with Liviu Dragnea, but also with other colleagues from PSD and ALDE. We do not plan to give up. We have this political legitimacy which is stronger than any other before. It is a Government that does not have even a month since its investiture, which has probably some shortcomings I noticed, a Government that will go on. It is also a lack of experience of some, but we will surpass this moment,” Tariceanu pointed.
The Senate Speaker pleaded for respect for democratic institutions.
Turcan: Protesters’ message cannot be ignored
PNL interim chair Raluca Turcan said that the message of the people who took to the streets cannot be ignored. “PSD-ALDE, Dragnea & company must give up on the two emergency ordinances. It’s the only gesture with which the Government can show that it understands what is being transmitted in the street,” Raluca Turcan wrote on Facebook.
International press notes the extent of the protests in Romania
Sunday evening’s protests have caught the attention of the foreign press, which emphasises that these were the largest protests recently seen in Romania. Tens of thousands of people braved the cold in the capital and other cities to express their opposition to two controversial Government decrees, the foreign press agencies noted.
Tens of thousands rally in Romania against planned emergency decrees, a Reuters headline read, offering its subscribers images from the protest too.
“I am here because I can’t believe that 27 years have passed and I find myself in the same place in the same square,” Reuters quoted a protester saying.
“I came to protest against the CNA and against the pardon and amnesty ordinances. We want to convince people to continue until we obtain what we want,” another protester explained.
Quoting police sources, the agency stated there were 50,000 protesters in Bucharest alone and pointed out this was the largest protest in recent weeks.
In France, ‘Le Figaro’ wrote that “protesters gathered in central University Square before heading out to the headquarters of the Justice Ministry, the Ombudsman and the Government.” The French daily also listed the reasons for discontent: “a draft Government ordinance decriminalising abuse of office causing financial damages below RON 200,000” and “the pardoning of convicts sentenced to less than five years for certain crimes, and the cutting of sentences by half for all convicts aged over 60 and those terminally ill, regardless of their crimes.”
Switzerland’s ‘Tribune de Geneve’ headlined: “Street denounces ordinance which makes abuse of office tolerable.” Around 50,000 persons gathered in Bucharest, in the biggest recent protest, the daily wrote, quoting a ‘France-Press’ story.
“Thousands of people are protesting in Romania against the draft pardon,” ‘Deutsche Welle’ wrote. “Thousands of people protested in Bucharest and 22 other Romanian cities, including Cluj and Timisoara,” ‘Deutsche Welle’ added, also presenting the content of the ordinances that sparked popular discontent.
Across the ocean, ‘The New York Times’ carried an Associated Press story according to which “around 10,000 people marched in Bucharest and other cities against the Government’s bid to pardon hundreds of convicts, which, according to critics, would damage anticorruption efforts. Protesters gathering in University Square called the Social Democratic Party “red plague.” Subsequently, they marched to Victoriei Square, where the Government headquarters are located,” AP wrote.
The main international press agencies’ stories on the Romanian protests were also published by Newsweek, Boston Globe, Radio Free Europe, Yahoo News, but also by the Asian and Canadian press.
In its turn, Euronews wrote that “social discontent against controversial penal code reform is unwavering in Romania,” and pointed out that the magistrates and the President oppose these amendments, while several lawmakers are suspected of corruption.