As January drew to a close, the country’s Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu issued an emergency decree that decriminalizes some forms of corruption. This is but the latest attempt by members of the Romanian government to escape indictment. For days Romanians in 50 towns and cities have been on the streets to show their support for the country's anti-corruption laws. These are the largest demonstrations since the fall of communism almost thee decades ago.
A joint statement from six strategic allies of Romania (US, Canada, Germany, France, the Netherlands and Belgium) called for a repeal of the decree and underlined the importance of the fight against corruption.
Efforts to combat corruption have never been more important than they are today. In the context of the current US administration and surging right-wing movements in Europe, this point becomes particularly prescient.
The Trump administration includes some of the most corrupt and powerful people in the country. The Secretary of State is Rex Tillerson, he is the former CEO of Exxon arguably the most corrupt corporation in the most corrupt industry on Earth.
Corruption not only undermines environmental protections it also eats away at a nation's resources and frays the fabric of society. Sustainability is a bulwark against corruption. Through its emphasis on transparency sustainability actively combats the culture in which turpitude flourishes.
Corruption is a cancer that is highly detrimental to a country's well-being. We have seen evidence of this in Greece. At the last two Olympic Games, in both Russia and Brazil corruption was rampant. Perhaps the most well-known corruption story to break in recent years is the release of the Panama Papers.
Romanians appear to understand what is at stake and they are standing firm against corruption. Protests have been ongoing in the country for four days as people are pushing back against government corruption.
Justice Minister Florin Iordache said the measure would decriminalize abuse of power cases in which the financial damage is valued at less than 200,000 lei ($47,800 ).
Hundreds of thousands are protesting against this decree. This comes after repeated attempts by politicians to weaken anti-corruption measures to save themselves from prosecution. Now the country's president has joined the fight pledging to use the courts to challenge the prime minister's decree.
The Romanian people and the nation's press show us what doing one's civic duty looks like. These brave people are not complacent or apathetic they are standing up to their government out of love for their country and its fledgling democracy. It may also be that they remember what tyranny looks like. The memory of their former leader, the massively corrupt "communist" dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu still looms large.
With the aim of contextualizing these protests here is a brief summary of the recent history of Romania's anti-corruption measures. Prior to joining the EU in 2007, Romania was well known for its money laundering operations. Tax evasion seemed to be the norm and crimes like forgery and graft were commonplace.
In 2015 Romania's anti-corruption laws were enforced in earnest and 1,250 public officials including a sitting Prime minister were indicted.This is due to the work of the country's National Anti-corruption Directorate (DNA).
DNA has investigated and indicted the former prime minister Victor Ponta, five ministers, 21 members of the combined houses of parliament, and Bucharest Mayor Sorin Oprescu. These efforts have been hailed by citizens, foreign governments, and investors. This reinforces the idea that such measures are good for international relations and the economy.
Romania compared to Bulgaria
Anti-corruption efforts also contribute to political stability conversely, the absence of such measures are a recipe for volatility. Romania's neighbor Bulgaria has been plagued by instability due in large part to ineffectual policing in the face of widespread corruption.
Bulgaria is ranked as the worst nation in the EU according to latest Corruption Perceptions Index by Transparency International. As long as the government refuses to allow itself to be thoroughly investigated, Bulgaria will likely remain the most corrupt nation in Europe.
Although Romania is still near the bottom of this list it is improving quickly while Bulgaria appears to be getting worse. In fact, Romania's progress has caused European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to say that corruption monitoring will end in 2019.
Romania's efforts to combat corruption has implications well beyond Romania. As reported by Politico,
"Laura Ştefan, who was instrumental in reinvigorating the DNA as the director of the ministry of justice from 2005 to 2007, told POLITICO. We have a hemorrhage of people under investigation. They have to change their way of doing business, or kill the DNA. Or else theyll all end up in jail. Ştefans ex-boss, former justice minister Monica Macovei, said the DNA should serve as an example for other countries."Its a model for the region, but not only the region, for all Europe, as it works extremely well, Macovei said.Perhaps the most prophetic words for people around the globe and particularly those in the US is the following warning from a former justice minister
"We need to be very vigilant the whole time...It is like democracy if you think its given to you forever, you can lose it overnight."
Romanians offer both a warning and hope for everyone. We can learn from their brave dedication in defense of their country. We have to confront the apathy that accepts corruption.
Romanians are leading by example. If we value our democracies we need to stand up and protest against corrupt governments.