Romania captured the world’s attention last week when hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets, protesting a government decree that many saw as backtracking on fighting corruption.
Corruption is an endemic problem across Eastern Europe. But Romania’s long struggle against it has placed the issue at the center of its political debate. The government decree would have decriminalized some corruption offenses, which alarmed Romanian judges and prosecutors. In Brussels, the European Commission expressed concern, as many people inside and outside Romania feared the decree could undermine the rule of law in one of Europe’s youngest democracies.
Most Romanians talked about constantly, everyday bribery – at hospitals, schools and public institutions. Some people felt helpless, saying that corruption was a deeply rooted cultural problem. Many were infuriated by the government’s decree, which would have directly benefited some prominent politicians, and feared the edict could erode the country’s long-term commitment to fighting corruption.
According to Tamas Hunor Kecakes, “In small towns like my hometown, nepotism is just as natural as inheriting something from your parents, going to church on Sundays or watching the seasons go by: It is one of our customs or something that goes without saying.”
As a child growing up in Romania, you are surrounded by this notion of “corruption.” You hear your family discuss how that politician made a fortune using their influence. You see how they argue on television about it all day. By the time you reach maturity, you comprehend corruption as an active part of your society,” Rares Petru Achiriloaie added.