Apparently home to one of Europe’s most “apathetic” populations, Romanians have entered their eleventh day of revolt. The trigger to last week’s, at times violent, altercations between state forces and protestors was health minister Raed Arafat’s resignation at proposed reforms to areas of the department of health. This was in response to the proposed privatisation of the accident and emergency services, a move he believed would destroy a highly integrated structure. The doctor enjoys high levels of popular support for the introduction of this facility, many pointing it out to be the single most positive note in a notoriously poor and corrupt health system, which is fuelled by low salaries and poor rural organisation.
Strong protests against Arafat’s resignation led to the subsequent revoking of the law and the reinstatement of the health minister but the Romanian movement has since snowballed. Europe’s second poorest country is joining its other ex-Soviet neighbours in rebelling against stifling austerity measures. On Saturday 21st some 500 Romanians had endured nine days of icy and snowy conditions to protest against President Traian Basescu and the government.
…the loss of public money into the steadily fattening pockets of officials…
IMF, EU and World Bank endorsed austerity measures were initially introduced in 2009. The economy was shrinking by some 7.1 percent, after which Romania accepted a €20 billion loan. The conditions attached to this package included the reducing of public wages by 25 percent, slashing of benefits and an increase in sales tax by five percent. General indignation has risen two years later at the sight of the increased impoverishment of ordinary citizens and the loss of public money into the steadily fattening pockets of officials.
Romania’s unrest has yet to size that of Greece or Spain, but commentators believe it be the worst violence the country has faced for more than a decade. A rally last week of some 7000 was the biggest since 2010 in Bucharest. This has been met with heavy handed policing tactics and presidential warnings, as last weekend alone saw some 59 people injured. Tear gas and batons were used to beat back protesters who in turn threw stones and in some cases fire-bombs.
…the opposition’s popularity is growing in the face of the problems facing the current government…
Elections are to take place later on this year but analysts believe that the protests, which on Sunday reached their 10th day, were not sufficient to force an immediate change of government or legislation. This conclusion is doubtable, though, on the grounds that they have caused the revoking of the unpopular health bill. To add to this, the opposition’s popularity is growing in the face of the problems facing the current government, which looks almost certain to lose at the ballot box.
Romania presents Europe with an interesting conundrum. Already an economically ailing country before the most recent crisis, IMF austerity measures have not ailed the country’s money seeping wounds. Poor living conditions and the prospect of more cuts have pushed a society towards confronting measures once more. How long this movement will last is unclear, but the embers of dissent have surely been stoked.
Image courtesy of Luke Addison