Anti-austerity protesters occupy Bucharest

Police in Bucharest fired tear gas to disperse thousands of demonstrators who blocked traffic in the city’s University Square Jan. 14 to protest austerity measures and poor living standards. Protesters called for President Traian Basescu’s resignation and early elections, carrying signs reading “Liberty” and “Down with President Basescu.” In 2009, Romania took a two-year $27.5 billion loan from the EU, IMF and the World Bank, which imposed harsh austerity measures, reducing public wages by 25% and increasing taxes. The catalyst for the protests was the resignation of popular health official Raed Arafat, a Palestinian with Romanian citizenship who opposed health “reforms” proposed by the government. (AlJazeera, AP, CNN, Jan. 15)

Unrest over similar issues is also now breaking out in neighboring Hungary.

See our last post on the struggle in the Balkans.

  1. Romania: protesters bring down government
    The Guardian Feb. 7 asks “Who’s Next?”

    Protests against the austerity measures imposed by Romania’s leaders – and the overall conduct of the political class—claimed their first scalp two weeks ago when the minister for foreign affairs, Teodor Baconschi, was sacked. His dismissal, after a reference to protesters as “violent and inept slum-dwellers”, was meant to appease the demonstrators – but apparently was not enough.

    On Monday morning the Romanian prime minister, Emil Boc, announced his own resignation. Several names have been floated as potential replacements for him, but by the evening President Băsescu had announced that his nomination for the office would be Mihai Răzvan Ungureanu, a historian who served as minister of foreign affairs between December 2004 and March 2007 and subsequently as chief of the foreign intelligence service.

  2. Romania: protesters bring down government —again
    From the New York Times, April 27:

    PARIS — Romania’s government fell Friday in a no-confidence vote just two months after taking office, the latest government in Europe to crumble amid disputes over unpopular austerity measures and declining growth rates.

    Some 235 lawmakers voted against the center-right government of Prime Minister Mihai Razvan Ungureanu, four more votes than needed, plunging the country into crisis and raising the prospect of months of political and economic uncertainty.

    The International Monetary Fund, which had been reviewing a precautionary loan for Romania of $6.6 billion, said Friday that it would halt the review pending the formation of a new government, Reuters reported.

    President Traian Basescu is expected to nominate a new prime minister, who will be required to present his governing program to Parliament for approval. But analysts say the process could drag on for months.

    Governments have been collapsing across Europe amid calls by Germany and others for tough austerity to help restore confidence in the euro zone, even as some critics complain that aggressive cuts are undermining economic growth and spurring Europeans to protest…

    On Friday, Chancellor Angel Merkel of Germany showed little sign of backing down from her austerity mantra, insisting that European Union countries adhere to a treaty on deficit reduction they signed on to just last month…

    But some question how long Germany can hold out in the face of a gathering double-dip recession and growing political turmoil. The center-right government of the Czech Republic on Friday survived a vote of confidence in Parliament by just 12 votes, staving off early elections for the time being and helping to clear the way for unpopular new spending cuts…

    The backlash in Eastern Europe against austerity has been particularly acute in countries like Romania and the Czech Republic because it has been combined with growing anger at endemic corruption, a legacy of decades of Communist rule.

    In recent months, tens of thousands in both Romania and the Czech Republic have staged some of the biggest demonstrations since the fall of Communism in 1989, railing against painful cuts and widespread graft. In a telling sign, protesters in both countries have held similar banners calling for a stop to thievery.