Who’s responsible for the violence of Romania's protests?

Romanian officials dodge accountability for the violent crackdown at the anti-government protest that left 452 wounded on August 10.

Ana Maria Luca
Ana Maria Luca NewsMavens, Central & Eastern Europe
Who’s responsible for the violence of Romania's protests? - NewsMavens
Protest, August 10, YouTube

Why this story matters:

The protest on August 10 was obviously not the first anti-government rally in Bucharest. Romanians have been taking to the streets for the past year and a half, since the Social Democrats came to power and started to push for a reduction in the fight against corruption.

The protest on August 10 wasn’t even as big as the one in February 2017, when about half a million Romanians took to the streets -- defying snow and  cold -- to protest a government decree that promised to pardon some politicians sentenced for corruption.

But on August 10, suddenly, the riot police, unusually well prepared and geared up for street fight, were ordered by the Bucharest governor to evacuate the square at 11 pm.

It is still not clear what exactly led to the violent intervention of the police on that Friday night.

There had been on-and-off clashes and scuffles with small groups of protesters for about eight hours already and protesters with children already started to leave the square because of the tear gas.

But nobody expected a full force intervention against peaceful people, journalists, taxi drivers and even some Israeli tourists who happened to pass by.

Despite footage shot by protesters and reporters that shows an obvious use of force against peaceful people, the Romanian security forces said they intervened against violent individuals, allegedly members of football gangs who infiltrated the protesters and attacked two gendarmes.  

They made no arrests. Some 452 people, including 36 riot police troops, were wounded in the clashes.

Independent journalism platform Recorder.ro has the movie of the protest.

Days after the incidents, both the opposition and civil society activists are having a hard time fighting for accountability. Not one institution or official involved in the crackdown on the protests has taken any responsibility for what has happened.

Context

  • Valeriu Nicolae is a Romanian humanitarian NGO worker who served as Secretary of State in 2016 said he took his share of tear gas straight in his face that night: “I have no idea why. There is no one in the group I am in that curses, there are no thugs. The crowd responded by running to avoid burns. I’m coughing and my eyes are stinging badly. Next to me, two parents are trying to protect their children.” For him, Romania is no longer a democracy, but a “stupidocracy.”
  • “We‘ve been living in a permanent state of April’s Fools in the past 18-19 months [since the Social Democrats came to power],” he wrote on his blog. “An incompetent government supported by an aggressive rhetoric that lacks common sense. (…) We’ve become a country where normal life means protests, lack of manners and opportunism,” he added.
  • Romanian government officials came under heavy criticism from the opposition and civil society organizations for dodging accountability over the security forces’ use of violence against anti-corruption protesters on August 10.
  • The clashes left 452 wounded, including journalists who were assaulted and verbally attacked by riot police for filming and photographing the intervention.
  •  Cases of physical attacks were reported by Robert Mihăilescu (Hotnews.ro), Cristi Stefanescu (DW), Vlad Ursulean (Casa Jurnalistului), photojournalists Ioana Moldovan (Documentaria.ro)and Silviu Matei (Agerpres) and by reporter Cristian Popa and cameraperson Cristi Ban (Digi24 news TV).
  • A camera operator of the Austrian public television operator ORF, Robert Reinprecht, was also beaten by the riot police after the square was cleared.
  • Interior Minister Carmen Dan said on Tuesday morning that she does not consider herself responsible for the use of violence against protesters and journalists during Friday’s protests.  “I did not in any way go beyond my legal responsibilities,” Dan told journalists.
  • The Liberal opposition on Tuesday morning called for an investigation by the Parliament Defence Committee into Dan’s involvement into the security forces’ operation against the anti-corruption protest. However, the ruling Social Democrat members of the parliamentary committee did not show up and the session was adjourned because of the lack of a quorum until next Tuesday.
  •  President Klaus Iohannis also criticised the government for avoiding responsibility. “It has already been three days and there is absolutely no one responsible for what happened on Friday in Victoriei Square,” Iohannis said in an official address. “Attacking innocent people, attacking journalists, women and children is inconceivable in a European state, and those who are guilty of it need to be identified,” he added.
  • Military prosecutors started an investigation into the use of violence against protesters and announced that scores of people have filed complaints against the security forces. Witness hearings started on Monday. On Tuesday, the case was moved to the Attorney General’s office because it also targets high raking offcials.
  •  “It’s a typical process of Romanian institutions - everybody blames everybody,” former Foreign Minister Cristian Diaconescu told Digi24 news channel on Monday night. “I heard a guy from the Interior Ministry saying that journalists were beaten because they did not comply with the evacuation order. And he thought that was normal,” he added.
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