Romania: Taking a stand against government corruption
People power has triumphed, said Andrei Plesu in Adevarul (Romania). Outraged by a government decree that would have gutted many penalties for corruption by public officials, effectively legalizing the misuse of public office for personal gain, half a million protesters thronged the freezing squares of Bucharest and other Romanian cities night after night last week. Chanting “Thieves! Thieves!” they held up cellphone flashlights in the darkness, symbolizing their intention to force corruption into the light. Stunned by this display of public anger, the leftist government revoked the decree. The protests—the largest since the 1989 demonstrations that toppled Nicolae Ceausescu’s Communist regime—show “a resurgent civic awareness, a promising social vitality” that this country has been lacking. The ruling Social Democratic Party that rammed through the decree only held on to power in December’s legislative election because most Romanians didn’t bother to vote: Turnout was abysmal, at less than 40 percent.
The government knew the decree was a travesty, said Peter Janku in Germany’s DeutscheWelle.de. Justice Minister Florin Iordache sprang it as an emergency measure at a late-night cabinet meeting. He rejected “any attempt at observing democratic and civil law and custom” because he wanted to obscure the decree’s true purpose: to let his party’s leader, Liviu Dragnea, take over as prime minister. Dragnea can’t currently serve in public office because he has been convicted of vote rigging and is now on trial for abuse of power. But under the decree his record would have been expunged. Worryingly, the government hasn’t given up: The justice minister is now preparing a draft law similar to the revoked decree, which will be submitted to Parliament.
That’s because it is necessary, said Nick Kochan in the Financial Times (U.K.). Yes, Romania was once one of the most corrupt countries in Europe, thanks to its flawed decommunization in the 1990s. But in recent years its “overzealous” National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA), working hand in glove with a “compromised judiciary,” has thrown people behind bars who don’t belong there. That 92 percent of cases brought by the DNA end in convictions strains credulity. Most ominous is the role of the Romanian Intelligence Service in these prosecutions. The secret police carry out 20,000 wiretaps for the DNA every year.
Romania needs large-scale reform, said Silviu Sergiu in Romania Libera (Romania). But pardoning corrupt officials is not the way to clean house. Romanians want accountability. Protests will continue until Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu resigns and Dragnea is removed as party leader—but we shouldn’t stop there. We need to “amend the national security laws to prevent the intelligence service from interfering in the judiciary.” Our credibility as a democracy is at stake, said Valentin Naumescu in Ziua de Cluj (Romania). When we joined the European Union in 2007, many Western Europeans said we were unprepared, that our judicial system was corrupt and our commitment to transparency shaky. “Our membership in the West hangs by a thread and luck.”