Romania's government on Feb. 4 capitulated in the face of a sustained protest campaign and repealed a decree that had decriminalized corruption offenses. Tens of thousands of flag-waving protesters in central Bucharest cheered the announcement. The decree, removing criminal penalties for official misconduct in which the damages are less than €44,000, was enacted Jan. 31—sparking the largest demonstrations in Romania since the fall of communism in 1989. After three days of mounting protests, an estimated 600,000 Romanians marched in Bucharest and other cities the day before the government blinked. Protests have continued since then, demanding the resignation of the government.
The politics of the situation are a bit messy. The ruling center-left Social Democratic Party portrayed the decree as a measure against prison overcrowding, and was prepared to issue pardons for about 2,500 prisoners. Opponents charged that it was a cynical move to protect political friends in the clink or looking at prison time—first and foremost, SDP leader Liviu Dragnea, who faces charges of defrauding the state for €24,000. The right-wing opposition parties have jumped on the protests, accusing the SDP of seeking a return to communism. (BIRN, EuroNews, BBC News, Jurist, Al Jazeera)
Still, the protest movement is a testament to people's power. As with December's similar victory for a protest campaign in Poland, we must compare the situation here in the United States. In the initial shock after Trump's election, there were around two weeks of near-daily protests in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and other cities. Then "normalization" set in. There has been a second wave of protest since the inauguration and subsequent "Muslim ban," now pending before the courts. A defeat of Trump's travel ban would be a critical victory, setting limits on his power-grab in the early days of his administration, and possibly heading off the establishment of an authoritarian state in the US. Can we maintain the momentum—and dare to aspire to the same degree of commitment as demonstrated by the Romanians? That—demonstrably—is what it takes to get the goods.