Romanian creativity is hallmark of huge anti-graft protests
BUCHAREST - The Associated PressIn recent weeks, hundreds of thousands of Romanians have used humor, wit and hip symbols in anti-corruption protests. The spark was a government decree that would have diluted the anti-graft drive.
Although the government backed down, demonstrations have continued in Bucharest, in towns across the country and even abroad.
So, what does it mean "to protest like a Romanian?"
The light of these winter protests has been the battery-generated glow of mobile phones. At the biggest protest of a generation on Feb. 5, tens of thousands lit up smartphones outside the government offices in Victory Square, projecting a panoply of twinkling lights around the square as a visual image of solidarity. A week later, tens of thousands of demonstrators held phones or torches under pieces of red, blue and yellow-colored paper, creating a gigantic national flag.
Theater was one of the few tools of resistance under the suffocating communist regime of Nicolae Ceausescu, with metaphors and double-entendres taking the place of overt protests. The country's post-communist political life at times resembles operetta, so it's hardly surprising drama has permeated the protests.
Protesters have played violins or guitars, danced or staged impromptu plays or dances, in a milange of Romanians' dark humor and witty sarcasm. Life-size cutouts of politicians from the governing Social Democratic Party-led alliance dressed as convicts have been paraded around Victory Square. Images of 15th-century prince Vlad the Impaler, who punished thieves by cutting off their hands, also popped up.
Technicians have showcased their skills too. Shards of green and blue strobe lights pierced Victory Square and key protest words such #rezist have been projected onto high-rise buildings around the square. An illuminated Batman, who saves the city from villains, also appeared on a building.
Some of the anti-corruption messages have been in English to net a wider audience, others are impossible to translate. Some of catchiest have been plays on the name of Liviu Dragnea, the mustachioed leader of the Social Democratic Party. He can't be prime minister due to a two-year suspended conviction he received last year for vote-rigging during a 2012 referendum to impeach then-president Traian Basescu.
"We don't beLiviu" or "EU, we don't want to Liviu" have featured on banners, as has one with Star Trek's Mr. Spock looking at the government offices saying: "Captain, I have scanned the building and there is no sign of intelligent life."
Romanians have also protested in cities in Europe and North America. "Dragnea, Erdogan, one letter short of an anagram," read one banner in Toronto.
Sibiu was Europe's city of culture in 2007 when Romania joined the European Union. The medieval fortress city in Transylvania has contemporary political significance as President Klaus Iohannis, a supporter of the anti-corruption fight, was mayor there from 2000 until he was elected president in 2014. Last weekend, a few hundred people assembled in city's picturesque main square, sitting on benches or on the ground, silently reading Henry David Thoreau's "Duty of Civil Disobedience," Jean-Claude Carriere's "The Circle of Liars" or the Bible. Protesters and commentators read it as showing peaceful resistance and inner resourcefulness against the arbitrary whims of government.
Dogs became protest props for a while after pro-government Romania TV claimed protesters were paid 30 lei ($7.15) per pooch they brought to the protests. After that, a handful of dogs appeared at protests wearing protest placards.
One read: "I feel like yelling."
A 33-year-old man in the eastern city of Odobesti gained attention for staging a one-man protest. The city's mayor has sued him for allegedly writing insulting and libelous messages on his Facebook page.