- By Emily TamkinEmily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. She writes for FP’s The Cable, a real-time take on the news in Washington and the wider world. She has been at FP since the fall of 2016, before which she was an associate editor at New America, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington. She has a B.A. in Russian literature from Columbia University, an M.Phil. in Russian and East European studies from the University of Oxford, and studied Soviet dissidence in archival centers in Moscow, Tbilisi, and, on a Fulbright, in Bremen — all of which means that at FP, she writes when she can on Russia and Central and Eastern Europe.
Romanian senators voted down a measure that would have pardoned officials convicted of corruption on Thursday, just a day after the senate’s legislative affairs committee had agreed upon it. What changed?
Up to two thousand angry Romanians took to the streets. “We don’t want to be a country of thieves!,” they shouted.
The whole episode was reminiscent of protests that happened back in February. Then, hundreds of thousands took to the streets to push back against legislation that would have decriminalized certain cases of official misconduct where the amounts involved are less than $48,000 — which, coincidentally, would have covered Liviu Dragnea. Dragnea is not prime minister, but he is nevertheless regarded as the head of Romania’s ruling Social Democratic party — and is charged with defrauding the state of roughly $25,800.
That legislation was pulled, criticized by Romanian President Klaus Iohannis and the powers that be in Brussels, although protests continued for a while thereafter.
“This bill withdrawn today was in the same vein, but even more brazen, pardoning officials jailed for corruption, abuse of office, etc. or reducing their sentences significantly—so no wonder people poured to the streets again,” Zselyke Csaky of Freedom House told Foreign Policy.
Given that last potentially corruption-enabling legislation resulted in the largest protests the country had seen since 1989, one might wonder why legislators were even considering an amendment that would allow convicted government officials to get off scot free, or nearly so.
According to a statement by one of the men behind the amendment — Traian Basescu, who ran for office on an anti-corruption platform — it was proposed because “Romania needs a clean slate.”
Csaky seems it somewhat differently. “Much of the Romanian political class is still beholden to a system that rewards cronyism, patronage, and under-the-table dealings,” she said. The support from members of the ruling party demonstrates the degree of political resistance to rooting out corruption in Romania, she said.
The response from the international community was decidedly more muted, although the proposal goes farther than that which was protested in February. However, Romanian Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu, Iohannis, and Dragnea each came out against the amendment.
But they did not come out as forcefully as the hundreds who took to the streets Wednesday night, or those who drove around parliament honking their horns on Thursday, or the activists who called for new protests Thursday night and Saturday — that is, the Romanian people.
Photo credit: DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP/Getty Images