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May 27, 2022

The spectrum of repression

Several days ago, a man was filmed while insolently driving on the wrong lane. When someone cut him off to prevent an accident, the man exited his car holding a crowbar, intent on hitting the car blocking him.

Seeing that he was being filmed, he backed off and left. A random incident, as so many others, proof of unashamed aggressiveness capable of offending, terrorising and even hitting in a whimsical manner. A worrisome lack of self-control, the foundation of civilised living together. Surprising was the Police communique, which admitted that the man concerned was actually a… policeman.

One working at a pre-trial arrest centre in the capital city. Of course, any generalisation is more deceiving than it is useful. But sometimes a phenomenon can only be perceived through enhanced attention to details that are otherwise neglected. It is hard to believe the said policeman had a unique outburst. And that a more profound contemptuous attitude does not lie behind such aggressiveness. And it really is not an isolated case.

As anything that is significantly dependent on the political, even in a democracy, police structures can show various hues. Any Government can change, more or less, the working atmosphere within state institutions, like in the Police or Gendarmerie. And individuals like the one mentioned above can be deterred, tolerated or even tacitly encouraged. A significant case in this sense is the Italian one at the G8 summit in Genoa, in 2001. Back then, policemen stormed a school housing the protesters who were taking part in protests taking place in parallel with the summit of the heads of state. The assault was extremely brutal and cruel, later assimilated by European magistrates with forms of torture applied to unarmed people with no other justification except revenge for the guerrilla clashes stoked by several difficult to identify extremists. Silvio Berlusconi was head of the Italian Government back then, at the helm of a centre-right alliance. The choice for such an authoritarian response cannot be conceived without occult political choice, even if the political officials were not involved in the criminal lawsuits.

To the example of our arrogant policeman one can also add other signals that something is about to change. The laws in favour of the protection of the policeman, as well as those concerning the right to publicly demonstrate, risk being amended in favour of an enhanced spirit of repressive authoritarianism.

The political context is favourable in this sense. Regardless of what the judicial system will decide in the future, the leader of the current ruling power feels cornered. The latest accusations, coming from an EU institution, are far graver than the previous ones – such as rigging a referendum, for which he already received a final conviction (suspended), or fictitious employments within a state institution. In this situation, a tough political reaction is being foreshadowed, proportional to a hunted man who is at risk of losing not only power but also freedom. Probably the so-called reform of the judiciary system will be accelerated. The popular reaction will most likely not be late in coming.

Marathon-protests will restart. Inevitably, the point of an open conflict and significant pressure on the ruling power will be reached. What will the Interior Ministry do if protests do not stop? Will it use force? Will it use water cannons? Will it resort to mass arrests and will it subject to intimidating conditions the protesters who have fallen in its hands? The unlucky ones will end up precisely at the precinct where the insolent policeman works. Such an outlook should worry us. Because the current main leader is more determined not to give up than he was a year ago. For him there is no alternative.

For any Government, political protest demonstrations are difficult to manage. In a democracy, the problem is the limit up to where the law enforcement authorities’ response is accepted. For several years now, PSD keeps giving in to street pressure. First it gave up power after the tragic even at the Colectiv Club, which outraged many. Then it gave in shortly after a crushing electoral success – based, it is true, on low voter turnout –, rescinding Ordinance 13. Next time, however, the risk of violence is more serious. Especially since the current ruling power has already resorted to disinformation tactics and a poisoned bellicose rhetoric meant to stoke false social polarisations – between public sector employees and multinational company employees, for instance. Even more so since those who will side with it will not be few in numbers, scared that a different Government might take back their salary hikes. The hunted one is always dangerous.

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