In response to the largest protests the country has seen since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, the Romanian government has stepped away from proposed measures to decriminalize corruption. After demonstrations against the law grew to massive proportions, including 140,000 people in Bucharest and other cities, Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu said the measures would be repealed in a cabinet meeting on Sunday. Saturday was the 5th consecutive night of protests against the proposal.
After a nightclub fire in Bucharest killed 64 people in 2015, attributed largely to corrupt officials neglecting to enforce fire regulations, a popular movement against corruption among senior government officials.
The Romanian president, Klaus Iohannis, has opposed the ordinance to decriminalize corruption, joining the protesters last month in the streets in freezing cold weather. He wrote that “today is a day of mourning for the rule of law.”
One protester, Alexandra Boeriu, a 35-year-old NGO worker, said:
“I don’t normally protest but I just felt such a sense of rage. I was young, but I did live through communism and I know what this is. I don’t want this for my kids. There are a lot of people protesting who want to have a future in this country. It feels like someone has died.”
In a televised speech, Grindeanu said “we’ll hold an extraordinary meeting on Sunday to repeal the decree, withdraw, cancel it … and find a legal way to make sure it does not take effect…I don’t want to divide Romania … it can’t be divided in two. Romania in this moment seems broken in two.”
Grindeanu said the proposal would be debated in parliament, which observers said was unlikely to satisfy protesters who are calling for an immediate cancelation of the proposal, which was set to go into effect at midnight on Friday. The proposal would have decriminalized abuse of power offenses that involved sums of money less than €44,000 (£38,000).
Certain powerful individuals would benefit immediately from such a measure going into effect, such as Liviu Dragnea, leader of the ruling PSD party. Dragnea faces charges of defrauding the state of €24,000.
Romania’s constitutional court will rule next week whether the proposal is legal. The EU has specifically warned Romania about rolling back anti-corruption measures. Another bill set to reach parliament would set free roughly 2,500 prisoners with short sentences. The government said the legislation was intended to bring the law into line with constitution and to reduce overcrowding in prisons.