'When the sun set, a group of about 150 young rioters appeared from out of nowhere'
During the day Sunday, everything was going fine; the University Square was full of peaceful protesters. But when the sun set, a group of about 150 young people appeared from out of nowhere. They started breaking store windows, setting fire to tires, and throwing rocks at the police. They even threw Molotov cocktails. They were clearly prepared, and appeared to be out for a fight.The behaviour of the riot police was quite strange. Though they greatly outnumbered these rioters, the police backed away and watched as the violence grew. The police did form a line to keep the violent protesters away from the peaceful ones, however. [The police eventually used tear gas to dispel the rioters. [A police spokesman said most of the troublemakers were fans of football clubs involved in previous violent incidents.]These violent youths do not represent the majority of protesters. Most people who have come out to protest simply want to tell the government that many things need to change in Romania, and they want to do so in a peaceful way.“These days, when I drive through the city, I see old people begging at every stoplight. That’s because pensions have taken a hit”The bid to privatise parts of the health care system was the catalyst for these protests, but they’re about much more than that. President Traian Basescu went back on this plan Friday, but people have kept protesting for many other reasons. Ever since the financial crisis began in 2008, the standard of living in Romania has steadily decreased. There is the sense that the government has not tried their best to put the economy back on track. We in Romania realised when the economic crisis hit that we would suffer. But it’s been four years, and people are tired. Every new loan from the IMF and World Bank just seems to make things worse.For example, these days, when I drive through the city, I see old people begging at every stoplight. It breaks my heart. This has happened because pensions taken a hit. And we’ve suffered from a host of other austerity measures. Public sector wages have been slashed and value-added taxes have been raised. Meanwhile, unemployment has risen, and practically everybody’s got debt they can’t repay.I think a lot of people are also disappointed that the president has not come out to speak to the protesters. These past years, every time a major societal problem arose, the president would go out and speak to the people. This time, nothing.While I’ve heard some protesters calling for the government’s immediate resignation, most people are not asking for that much. We just want a bit of change, and this protest is a way of saying, ‘do things better – now.’”