At the beginning of this month, the biggest mass protest in Romania since the fall of communism in 1989 unfolded across the country. Hundreds of thousands of people in the capital, Bucharest, and every major city in Romania took to the streets against a decree that would have decriminalised abuses of public office. After a week of peaceful protests, the government withdrew the controversial law.
Huge crowds assembled in Bucharest
You don’t see mobilisation like this every day, but it happens when the stakes are high - and it can be extremely powerful. Previous mass demonstrations highlighted cyanide open-pit mining in Rosia Montana (2013), forest protection (2015) and again corruption, after a horrible fire in a nightclub that could have been prevented if the people responsible had applied the law (Colectiv, autumn 2015).
Greenpeace Romania joins protests against changes in the Romanian Forest Code in 2015.
Greenpeace Romania joined protesters because we believe the consequences of the emergency ordinance decree would have affected our work to protect the environment. It would have indirectly allowed companies to choose less costly and environmentally-damaging alternatives for their projects without fear of legal repercussions. The recently-passed executive order also threatened the already limited checks and balances against environmental crimes.
The reasons that hundreds of thousands of people so vocally rejected this decree may vary in tone from one to the next, but we knew the country needed to stand together against corruption: in a country that decriminalises corruption, there is no protection against environmental crimes.
Non-violence, creativity and solidarity – keywords of the unprecedented protests in Romania
Crowds all over Romania braved a bitter winter chill to protest. With creativity and humour on the banners displayed they inspired many more to join in and add their own - or even fly in from other countries where they now live - to show solidarity. Because of the pressure exerted by the large number of people that took to the streets to protect democracy, the Government repealed the ordinance.
'Bear with us'
It is the beginning of a victory for democracy
Each time people demonstrate for something is a reminder that we must act together to protect our fundamental rights and that we have the power to change unjust actions. We are experiencing challenging times and the clock is ticking on the health of the planet. Now, more than ever, we need to unite in the fight to protect our planet from the threats posed by climate change.
Protests are going on, all over the world. If you are reading this and you feel that all might be lost, remember that someone, somewhere is just now realising that it’s time to act and is not giving up hope. There’s simply too much to lose now. We resist and insist on the fact that holding political office does not give anyone the right to exploit it to legitimise environmental, or any other kind of abuse. We are used to hard fights and improbable victories. We are stronger together. Take action now and get involved in a local active group to make your voice heard.
Irina Bandrabur is a press officer in Greenpeace CEE’s Romania office