In Romania, faith in democracy survives

Mircea Geoana writes: A month ago, images of hundreds of thousands of Romanians protesting in front of the government building in Bucharest and in other Romanian cities started to spread around the world. It may have seemed just another popular turn toward right-wing demagogy in a time of receding faith in democracy. But that is not the case.

This protest movement is, in fact, a signal to the world that in this corner of Europe, democracy and its ideals are alive and well — that the civic fabric destroyed during decades of Communist oppression has healed, and the people want to perfect their democracy, not to weaken it.

The protests are aimed at an emergency ordinance from the government that would have reversed a national campaign against corruption, in which Romania has achieved significant but incomplete victories in recent years. Graft and nepotism still exist, and are blamed for high levels of poverty, polarization, social and economic injustice; those, in turn, have sent millions of young Romanians fleeing to other parts of the European Union, the United States or Canada. Still, enough young Romanians remained to take over the streets in freezing cold, and ultimately they forced the government to abandon the infamous ordinance.

These are not the first spontaneous protests here in the name of popular power. Those began three years ago with the end of the discredited presidency of Traian Basescu. They continued in opposition to attempts by foreign corporations to extract gold from Roman-era historic sites in the mountains of Transylvania. And they resumed against the government of the prime minister at the time, Victor Ponta, after a terrible fire in a Bucharest nightclub.

What Romania has been experiencing is an anti-elite political outpouring with a fury that resembles what we see in Europe and America, but whose origins and goals are 180 degrees opposite. These Romanian “indignados,” as the protesters are called, are not the blue-collar, rural, anti-globalization disgruntled who voted for Brexit or helped Donald Trump’s ascent to the White House. They are mainly young, urban, college-educated people with well-paid jobs at multinational corporations and banks, the main employers of local talent. So they are not protesting against globalization or the European Union. The solution they seek would be more globalization, a more solid Europe, more American and NATO involvement in our region. They are instinctively against any walls — physical or invisible — that may be erected in a vain effort to stop the free movement of people, ideas, capital or technology. [Continue reading…]

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