Romanians back on the streets after Bucharest protest violence

Defiant and unbowed by the tear gas and water cannons used by riot police the previous evening, more than 50,000 Romanians turned out on Bucharest’s Victory Square on August 11 to demand the government’s resignation. Unlike Friday’s much larger protest, the rally was peaceful and no violent incidents were reported.

The anti-government protest movement, which started in February last year when the government passed an emergency decree partly decriminalising abuse of office, was reactivated on August 10, when a mass rally was staged by the Romanian diaspora, who were joined by tens of thousands of Romanians living in the country. Violent clashes took place between the protesters and riot police, resulting in more than 450 people needing medical care for smoke inhalation or wounds sustained in clashes with police. Several members of the police force were also reported to have been injured. 

On August 11, people again gathered in large numbers in the Victory Square again to show their discontent with the government and ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD).

Many wore surgical masks around their necks to protect themselves in case the riot police used the gas again. The night before, the gendarmerie fired impressive amounts of tear gas into the crowd, even in the peaceful areas, attracting lots of criticism from protesters who called it abuse.

The protesters asked for the government’s resignation and chanted “Down with the government.” “ Justice, not corruption,” and “F*** PSD”. Anti-government messages were projected on the government’s headquarters and other buildings in the area.

“I was not able to be here last night, as I was out of the city. I came here as soon as I arrived in Bucharest. I think it’s my duty to do it, as I have a daughter and I want a better future for her. Making money and providing for her is not enough, we need to change the direction this country is going to,” a protester told bne IntelliNews, expressing his optimism the protest will really make a change.

As the night before, flags from around the world could be spotted in the square, as many Romanians living abroad have returned to the country to attend the protest.

“I could not attend the protest last night, but today as I was heading my hometown I decided to stop in Bucharest and attend the protest, to show my support. I’ve been reading reports about the violence last night all day, and that made me very sad and angry,” a Romanian living in Bulgaria told bne IntelliNews.

The police confirmed there had been provocateurs among the crowd. According to a spokesman for the Romanian gendarmerie, police intervened in force as they could not extract the provocateurs who were scattered in “compact groups” in the crowd.

The violent incidents reported on August 10 also fuelled the conflict between President Klaus Iohannis and the PSD leader, Liviu Dragnea.

While Iohannis condemned the violence saying that the “attempt to defeat the will of the people through a violent reaction of law enforcement is a reprehensible solution,” Dragnea called the president “the political sponsor of violence and extremist manifestations.”

“It is unacceptable that in front of the government headquarters, in the heart of the Romanian capital, organised groups, supported by the opposition and the president himself, attack the constitutional order,” Dragnea wrote on Facebook.

Romania’s military prosecutors have started a criminal case related to violent incidents and the way the gendarmerie acted during the protest on August 10.