Social Protests in Romania


We reproduce below a translation of a text produced by our German comrades in the Gruppe Internationalister Sozialisten (GIS) on the events in Romania up until the date it was written, 28 January 2012. Since then, the Emil Boc government has “fallen”, against a background of continued protests (despite the intense cold) and, in rapid succession, Boc was followed by acting Prime Minister Mihai Răzvan (6-9 February) and then by Prime Minister Ungureanu Cătălin Predoiu, whose cabinet was approved by Parliament on 9th February.
In reality, Boc resigned to deflect the wave of working class anger unleashed by his government’s privatisation plans, and many members of his government (which included Răzvan and Predoiu) have continued in office. Boc himself stated he was going to “defuse political and social tension” over austerity measures. That the measures themselves are going ahead has been confirmed by Predoiu.
The bourgeois opposition has boycotted Parliament since the 1 February, calling for a “totally fresh start for Romanian society”, which, of course, will be fresh only in that they would be in charge of the administration of capital-imposed austerity.
As usual, the Western bourgeois media has concentrated on the political goings-on at the level of the state, and there seems to be no news regarding the mass response to the Boc resignation and the manoeuvres around it (the comments of a handful of individuals, selected for their ability in foreign languages, and no doubt the extent to which their opinions gel with those of the interviewers, is no substitute). But it is to be hoped that the Romanian working class (see continues to strive for independence from bourgeois forces, and begins to aim at a “totally fresh start for human society”, the concomitant of success in that striving. To do that, it goes without saying, they will need to give themselves a (real) communist organisation.

28 January 2012

Since Wednesday 11 January 2012 there have been signs of movement in Romania. It has been 23 long years since the end of the Ceaucescu regime, which, after initial hopes, led to an era of resignation and social stagnation.

From Friday 13 January thousands have taken to the streets with demonstrations spreading over the entire country, including over forty cities. The protests and demonstrations have broken out completely spontaneously after the regime set a reform in motion, which aims at a comprehensive privatisation of the whole health system. The countrywide SMURD (Mobile Emergency Service for Resuscitation and Extrication) rescue service which operates alongside traditional ambulance services and provides an excellent complement to them will be subjected to a total privatisation. In fact, this will mean the end of this general purpose rescue service whose founder, Raed Arafat, a Palestinian by birth, is well-respected by the population. However, things have turned out completely unlike what the regime expected. Even last year the IMF had attested to the exemplary way in which the Romanian government had carried out wide-reaching social cuts against its population without encountering any meaningful resistance. In 2011 the Romanian government of the PDL (Democratic Liberal Party) and the UDMR/RMDSZ (Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania/Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romanian) pushed through one of the toughest wage cuts in the whole of Europe: in public services alone, the government cut wages by around 25%, pensions by the same and the already terrifying low unemployment benefit by 15%. Simultaneously, VAT was increased by 5% from 19% to 24%. This at a time when pensions don’t even stretch to paying even the most urgent medication or heating costs.

I worked for 35 years as a teacher, and now I am ashamed of my pension and can’t even pay for heating. That is a terrible humiliation...

explained 60 year old Gabriel Vernat. And she is not alone in this situation.

At the same time, the government decided to pass laws further restricting workers’ rights. In 2011, unemployment officially climbed from 6.9% to 7.2%. Electricity, water and food prices all increased, especially in cities with a lot of tourism where prices shot up. At first, it seemed that the health law brought in by State President Traian Basescu at the end of December 2011 would be pushed through by the government, just like all the other social and job cuts it had implemented before. But the ruling class had miscalculated. The health law laid down massive cuts in the provision for those enrolled in the sickness benefit scheme. Additional payments as well as paying for all consultations with doctors was to become obligatory. It should be noted that the health system in Romania, in view of its low wages and corruption, has a miserable reputation amongst the working population. Cristian Cercel, the Romanian correspondent of the Guardian describes it thus:

Many hospitals in Romania may be anterooms to death, but the system he [Arafat] founded is one of the few things many Romanians think works properly - it literally saves lives.

16 January 2012

The plan to subject the rescue service to a total privatisation was the straw which broke the camel’s back, and the mood swung completely around. The absolute privatisation of the rescue service would have meant that everyone would be forced to either pay, or do without medical care even in an emergency. The intention to expose the SMURD rescue service to this drastic treatment, which meant in fact the overthrow of its former function caused Raed Arafat, its director and an Undersecretary of State, to publicly declare that the new law would destroy the health system and that he therefore would not agree to it. Traian Basescu, who was already unpopular because of his authoritarian style of leadership, got himself into hot water when he attacked Arafat in the media and declared him to be the

greatest enemy of private health care.

His attacks expressed themselves in the sentence:

If he doesn’t approve the law, then he must go.

Following this, Raed Arafat resigned on Friday 13 January. The avalanche began to move. Even by the 11 January, several hundred people had demonstrated their solidarity with Arafat on the streets of Targu Mures, where Arafat had once studied. In Cluj Napoca too, several hundred people took to the streets. Rapidly and spontaneously, an unforeseen wave of outrage and solidarity swept through the entire country. In Banat, Apuseni and Maramures, in Transylvania, Moldavia, Burkovina, Wallachia, and above all in Bucharest and on the Black Sea, hundreds gathered in cities big and small, in order to carry their anger at the implementation of the health law onto the streets. Already by the following Friday, after a long period of political apathy, thousands took to the street as if it was the most natural thing in the world. Large demonstrations in Botosani, Deva, Alba Iulia, Craiova, Brasov, Piatra Neamt, Lasi, Timisoara and Arad, Suceava, Constanta, Oradea, Slatina, Giurgiu, Ploesti, Constanta, Pitesti, Vaslui, Galati, Sibiu and elsewhere drew several tens of thousands of people in all. Astonishingly, the number of demonstrators increased, although the government made a retreat. State-president Traian Basescu rescinded the health law on Friday and Raed Arafat was allowed to return to office. The SMURD rescue service should continue to exist.

The Character of the Protests

We are sick of the parties. LDP, SDP [post-Stalinist Social-Democratic Party] you are all the same...

read a placard in Bucharest. The protests went much further than criticism of the planned privatisation of the health system. They targeted the catastrophic cuts of the Centre-Right government of the Emil Boc cabinet as well as the authoritarian behaviour and government style of Head of State Basescu and the entire political establishment. Attempts by the opposition parties PNL (National Liberal Party) and SDP to channel the protest movement in their direction and to draw political capital from it largely failed. In contrast to the past, they did not succeed in dominating the protests against the government. In some demonstrations, the murdered victims of the 1989 “Revolution” were remembered, whose sacrifices should not have been in vain. There were the most varied reasons for the demonstrations. What unifies them the most is anger against the political establishment which is sharpening the ever more widespread impoverishment through its disastrous cutting policies. The demonstrations are almost a cross-section of the entire population. The strongest participation in the protests comes from pensioners, who have long been the most active opponents of social cuts. They are joined by students and the young unemployed, nurses, doctors, IT-workers, trained skilled workers, who are no longer employed because more and more subsidiaries of Western concerns are leaving the country to produce in others with even lower wages. Many of the slogans are crude and in general it can be said that they are often put on a nationalist basis. Many see economic misery - viewed too narrowly - as a consequence of the government’s policy of cuts or of its errors. The insight that this misery is above all else a product of capitalism’s crisis and should be seen on an international level is an entirely minority view. Certainly, reactionary forces like the Monarchists or the fascist Neo-legionaries, which were able to gain influence during the long-lasting period of political apathy, seek to find a foothold in the movement. Nevertheless, it would be false to dismiss the protests as nationalist. Such a way of seeing things would not just not do justice to the present contradictory nature of the protest, but, on the contrary, would also leave the field clear for the reactionary forces. This would be fatal in every respect.

The Political Establishment

The leading politicians in Romania seem to be extremely aloof and display enormous arrogance. In this respect they are alongside Nicolas Sarkozy or David Cameron. Basescu says that the people do not deserve their leaders. The Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi described the demonstrators - in relation to the persistent street fighting in Bucharest - as “inept and violent slum-dwellers”. He was sacked on 23January by Premier Emil Boc. Politically more dangerous are the pamphlets of a monk of the Orthodox Church, which represent the protests as the work of foreign powers, instigated by the billionaire George Soros, whose supposed aim is to destabilise Romania. An Orthodox-Nationalist MEP appealed to the patriotism of his countrymen in relation to Arafat:

This protest disgusts me. We shouldn’t defend an Arab.

According to the calculations of the so-called opposition parties, new elections should be held. In this way the strength of the protest movement would undermined. The behaviour of the police and gendarmerie, who have acted brutally against the demonstrations, already indicates how seriously the government takes the protests. According to eye-witness accounts, the police have also violently attacked passers-by and non-participants. In Bucharest, a man who was on his way home was harassed by the police. When he fled, they chased him and pushed him against a wire fence, and then fired a tear gas grenade against his leg from a distance of a meter, leading to badly broken bones.

The Romanian security services have learnt a thing or two. Many rail passengers have been prevented from supporting demonstrations in other cities, either by being barred from leaving or else forced to leave their train. In 1989, before the fall of Ceaucescu, it was the exchange of information between cities, organised by students, that primarily led to the generalisation of the demonstrations.


At present, no prognosis can be ventured as to how the protests will develop, not least because of the very superficial reporting in “our” media. What should be saluted is that many of those protesting continue to demand the complete resignation of the entire present government. Day by day, protests are going on over the entire country. It appears that Romania is shot through with illusions that in the framework of “parliamentary democracy” many things would get better. But the opposition parties are in no way regarded as being better.

What is new is that part of the demonstrations have defended themselves against the violence of the police and gendarmerie. But this should not be over-estimated, because the state will be better armed the next time. If, here in Germany, the talk is that the violence at the demonstrations has its source in football fans or hooligans, then that should be viewed critically. The street fighting in Bucharest lasted four days and stretched over an area of 6km. Defaming the social protests as Romanian “people’s anger”, no matter how many-sided they seem on the spot, is nothing other than an active policy of disinformation aimed at reducing any solidarity. In this respect, it is entirely positive that there have been protests of various kinds and sizes outside Romanian Consulates and Embassies across the world. It is to be hoped that the various demonstrations merge with strikes in industry and the public sector, and lead to a new dynamic which causes petty-bourgeois solutions and approaches to solutions to lose their persuasiveness. This would be just as important if the struggles did lead to the racist and nationalist formulations being deprived of their basis.

At present it does not seem as if this will happen. But, a few days ago no-one would have thought that the Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi would be forced to resign. It remains to be seen how the protests in Romania develop. Nevertheless, their very existence is an important precursor of the further explosions which are to be expected with the sharpening of the international crisis. Even so, isolated outbreaks of rage at a national level will not suffice to deflect the social attacks of the ruling class. In the end, only an international and internationalist workers’ organisation anchored in the class can contribute to overcoming the lines of division and give the worldwide struggles a revolutionary direction.


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