Protests over austerity measures in Romania were marred by violence on Sunday after at least 30 people were injured in clashes with police. Our Observer, who witnessed the events, explains the violence was sparked by a small band of young people that he says was separate from the larger group of peaceful protesters.
The protests began Thursday in support of a popular deputy health minister, who resigned following a row with Romania’s president over a controversial piece of legislation that would have partly privatised the country’s health care system.
Though Romania’s cabinet withdrew the bill on Friday, protesters have kept on demonstrating in cities across the country, expressing general anger over austerity measures and a falling standard of living.
This video, posted to YouTube by SrlbAlex, shows the violence that marred protests in Bucharest's University Square on Sunday evening. Fires set by rioters are visible starting at 2 minutes 50.
'When the sun set, a group of about 150 young rioters appeared from out of nowhere'
Ovidiu-Constantin Iliescu works as a translator in Bucharest. He has attended the protests every day since they began four days ago.
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.’”
A longer video showing Sunday's clashes in Bucharest, posted to YouTube by ciucinciu. Fires and projectiles are visible multiple times throughout the video; at 5 min 36, what appears to be a firebomb is thrown into the street.