Thousands of people protest against government corruption on Feb. 5 in Bucharest. Photo credit: Creative Lab | Shutterstock Inc.
Holding political leaders accountable for their actions is a crucial component of the rule of law, so when the Romanian government effectively decriminalized government corruption on Jan. 31 through the issuance of an Emergency Government Ordinance, the move triggered extensive protests that have encompassed more than half a million people. The Center for Institutional Analysis and Development (CADI), an Atlas Network partner based in Bucharest, is at the center of the movement for limited government and political accountability in Romania, and CADI’s executive director, Horia Terpe, explains the widespread reaction to legislation designed to pardon prosecuted politicians for various offenses, as well as reduce existing sentences for those who have been convicted. The protests have been successful in at least the short-term, putting a halt to the government’s plans.
The Emergency Government Ordinance would have decriminalized abuse of office offenses such as aiding and abetting relatives, and actions result in damage of less than 200,000 Romanian Lei (US$47,000). The government passed the ordinance against the request of President Klaus Iohannis, and intended the measure to bypass Parliament and go into immediate effect, Terpe explains, but it contained a provision that would delay its applicability until 10 days after being published. This provided enough time for people to organize an effective, large-scale protest movement in Romania.
“The rise of an urban middle class, the change of generations with freer, post-communist youth, increasing access to information and communication, travel and exposure to other desirable systems and political cultures have all contributed to enabling an unprecedented mobilization,” Terpe explains. “The key differences today are the beliefs that rule of law and a law equal for all can be achieved in practice, and that Romania’s future is to be firmly anchored in the NATO and EU partnerships; willingness and readiness to fight for these desiderates were proven on this occasion.”
Ovidiu Neacsu, vice president of Society for Individual Liberty (SoLib), also an Atlas Network partner organization based in Bucharest, notes that technology has made it easier than ever for people to bypass traditional political channels and take social action of their own.
“Free people, who think, act, work and speak for themselves don't need a party leader, local baron or their boss to tell them what to do and how to do it,” offers Ovidiu Neacsu, They talk to each other on the phones bought with their own money, on their own mobile subscription, buy their own tea, pizza, cardboard and ink and march to the streets to protect their freedom, their hard-earned money, and honor. The era of voting fraud by moving voters around with the buses has met the era of spontaneous congregation through smartphones and internet.”
The protest movement is not politically sophisticated, Terpe notes, and includes often conflicting ideas about the role of government. Too many people fail to realize, that widespread government corruption is the inevitable result of a state that has too much power to regulate the economy and shape the social order. Still, the overall support that people have shown for a consistent rule of law is an encouraging first step.
“The nonviolence and civility of the protests should be first mentions among their strengths,” Terpe continues. “These rely upon deeper determination and the spectacular long-term view taken in the support of the rule of law. My overall feeling is that a fresh and genuine professional elite of all trades deciding to lead the country onward is the best available path, irrespective of government’s self-serving policy twists.”
At least so far, political fallout from the protest movement has halted the Emergency Government Ordinance, although it remains to be seen whether the government will try to relax corruption provisions again in the future.
“The government is now attempting to quell the protests and to control damage, and is about to face a referendum on the topic during the spring,” Terpe explains, noting that this could also create structural changes inside Romania’s governing parties. “The opposition parties backed the protests and promise to pursue their agenda. With fresh and promising new leadership, the National Liberal Party is unequivocally on the anticorruption side together with the other opposition party, the recently established Save Romania Union. Taking a wider view, politicians and government officials need to understand, accept and follow the positive direction in which the country is headed by its society and should refrain from trying to interfere against it.”
Neacsu notes that Claudiu Năsui, president of SoLib, last fall joined the newly formed Union to Save Romania party and has been elected to Parliament, offering a voice of reason and accountability in a climate that sorely needs it.
CADI is determined to influence the climate of ideas in Romania through its classic liberal and libertarian book publications, articles, conferences, summer schools and workshops, all of which aim to educate the public and to advance an understanding of the challenges that Romania faces — as well as the possible solutions.
“Our collaborative approach in these endeavors aims to help consolidate all free-market groups and individuals such as to increase their positive impact,” Terpe explains. “We have also contributed to several public policy solutions and laws. In this domain, we would like to help achieve a shift from agency-based public policy toward market-based and market-friendly solutions.”
Terpe notes that Atlas Network has been an indispensable part of CADI’s activities and growth through the years.
“Atlas Network was the main reference in CADI’s inception and development,” Terpe concludes. “My own internship at Atlas Network and my colleagues’ participation in its educational programs were inspiring for the design and implementation of our think tank activities. Not lastly, it is through Atlas Network’s events that we met several of our current partners. Perhaps most importantly, Atlas Network represents the central hub for free-market organizations and individuals, and thus it keeps alive the beam of hope in the expansion of freedom in the world.”