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This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Romania's demonstrations - in perspective

Monday’s blogpost carried an excerpt (and heading) from The Economist magazine’s Eastern Approaches blog about apparent riots in Romania. After visiting the location here in Bucharest of the demonstrations and reading both the (Romanian) comments on the Economist blogpost and local papers, I think the Economist got the balance wrong. One of the discussants put it well -
1. The violence was limited in scope and intensity. It is now clear that it was provoked by fans of two football teams (Dinamo, Steaua) as a reaction against a recently enacted law requiring violent supporters to register with police stations before the match. The picture and the title suggests that the protests were very violent and much broader than they were in fact. The leaders of these football fans organizations made it very clear in the press they were not interested in politics and that their agenda was different.

2. Protests themselves are small in scope. It seems that at the peak, they were not more than 1,500 (more like 1,200) in Bucharest. Very few of them can explain the reasons they are protesting for. This is very typical for Occupy-type movements. Bucharest population is well over 2 mil. Also typical to Occupy-type movements, the are slogans are EQUALLY directed against opposition (USL) and government (PDL+UDMR). Some protesters are what you'd define as anti-globalization (against what they believe is new world order etc., you know the story), some are against the Rosia Montana gold mining project, some are from animal protection NGOs etc. The crowd is very colourful.
3. Protesters have been summoned by USL (socialists+liberals, the opposition). There are evidences on all major newspapers (check www.evz.ro). Some were called by SMS etc. The protests turned against opposition as well (they booed when Orban appeared).
4. About protests in other cities,In Iasi, major city, 320,000 (20-120 protesters):
In Craiova, major city of 300,000 population (<100 protesters)
5. Don't use sources such as Realitatea TV or Antena 3. They have a known political agenda for years. They compare with FoxNews, just that they are much worse. There are so many other sources. Since so much of the press is somehow connected politically, you should use as many different sources as possible. Just to give you an idea: Realitatea TV was showing the case of a retired military earning 500 EUR/month (state pension), WHILE at the same time being employed as assistant professor in some (private? I don't remember) university and earning a salary. He committed suicide because he was too poor. They were over-dramatising this episode.
As far as I could find out, only the pensions of the military personnel have been trimmed. These were huge anyway (more than 1,500 RON, I'd guess on average 2,000 RON?). Many of the military employees have received early retirement when joining NATO (probably out of fears that they may still be connected to KGB structures); the Romanian army was considered as oversized. They have received large pensions and many of them have IN ADDITION other jobs, since they are still relatively young (I have examples in the family). This group has been very vocal lately. Some participants in the 1989 events were receiving special pensions as well, apart from other privileges (free land etc.). Apparently these pensions were large and have been trimmed.
One additional remark: The Economist blog ran a story some time ago (entitled Can an Englishman rent his castle?) showing that in Romania very few live in rented flats, very few have mortgages (these are essentially the high-income earners). Most people own outright their homes and the housing costs are very low. The situation is not that bleak. There are other, more complex social and psychological problems affecting the population.

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