Socialist analysis of the winter protests

In the middle of January, several country-wide protests stopped Romanian President Basescu’s draconian healthcare reform from being enacted in only a few days. However, not satisfied with this, the protests continued. The movement then escalated, pushing the government to resign. Now comes the time to move on to remove the president, and the rotten system he represents!

After 28 days of protests, despite a harsh winter with temperatures of less than -20 °C, the Romanian working class and youth in standing up to the abuse and repression of the government , have managed to obtain great achievements. These include the stopping of the inhuman healthcare reform attempted by the ruling party (PDL) and the bringing down of the government, Prime Minister Boc and his ministers. To fully comprehend the this movement, which was somewhat different to recent movements in Western European countries, we must analyze the situation which led to the protests, and then to the dramatic shifts in the movement’s demands and objectives, as it grew in popularity and began to win concessions, revealing the weakness of the political elite.

The healthcare reform and the beginning of the protests

No more than a month ago, none of the members of the Romanian political elite would have predicted the social anger which their healthcare reform was about to unleash. President Băsescu, was confident, after having introduced privatization programs in all sectors of the Romanian economy since coming to power, just like all his predecessors since the restoration of capitalism. He decided to take a further "step forward" and follow suit in education and healthcare. Unfortunately for him, this time things took a different path. It was not the Labor reforms applied by the ruling party last year which extended the liberty of the big businesses and created worse working conditions for the people, or the austerity measures applied last year reducing many working class people to dire poverty, which triggered an explosion of nationwide protests. It was a single, albeit brutal and provocative reform, in heathcare. How can this be explained?

The Romanian working class had already been disgusted by the political circus of the last 20 years, when political parties with so called "opposing ideologies" allied with each other only to obtain power, in a sea of corruption. Complemented by the impact of the austerity measures of 2011 and the new draconian laws, of 2012, the anger finally exploded in the recent movement.

On 10 January 2012, the state sub-secretary of the Healthcare ministry, Dr. Raed Arafat, resigned from office because he was against the privatization reform in the emergency healthcare system. Specifically, the reform aimed ’only’ to allow for private emergency systems to compete with the state-financed one. However, in Romania there is already a shortage of medical personnel, especially field doctors, who need years of training to do their jobs well If the private sector entered emergency services, it could only have employed doctors from the state sector, and, step by step, the whole emergency system would be privatized. Workers and the poor of the country would thus have been left to die unless they could afford to pay for a trip in a private ambulance! It was a marauding attack, reminiscent of the 19th century. Following the anger against the measure and Arafat’s resignation, the very next day, the people stood up and started protesting against the reform. Thousands of people entered the streets and the squares, defending one of the last rights they had in this country and which was going to be taken away - the right to survive if you are poor and seriously ill.

Arafat, the politician who confronted Băsescu, was a Syrian doctor who came to Romania after capitalist restoration and established one of the most modern public sector emergency services in Europe (abbreviated as SMURD). Having been seen to have previously stood against corruption, many people saw him as different from most politicians. Thus, his gesture of leaving the ministry encouraged many protesters.

Three days later, after the police had shown severe brutality, beating innocent civilians (and following some clashes "anarchist" elements, which caused damage to Bucharest University square and some parts of central Bucharest), the president appeared on TV with a declaration, and promptly canceled the reform. Still, this event did not stop the protests, and the people went further, calling on the president to step down. Since he was elected in 2004, the "Balkanic Berlusconi", as Băsescu was called a few times by the western media, had cut the wages of working people, established anti-worker labour laws, called the working people "lazy" and even "idiots" or "worms"! And now he even dared to attack the basic right to the free medical care every human being should receive, and send us back to the 19th century. The people could not take it anymore, and Arafat’s stand was just the pretext the working class needed to wake up and demand the overthrow of this tyrant.

The protests escalate

The protests continued, relatively peacefully, as thousands continued to fill squares, even in smaller towns and provinces. As the "opposition" Social Liberal Union (USL), a coalition of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) and National Liberal Party (PNL) tried to claim the protests for themselves, the people went even further, to criticize the whole political class, and in some cases, even demand "a government of the people, by the people and for the people". Even the opposition was scared of the Romanian workers and youth now, and backed down from supporting the protests, as people began to turn their anger against them too. The revolutionary spirit of the Romanian proletariat was awakened by a spark, and became a fire which will burn strongly as a struggle against oppression, a class struggle!

In a country which had never known serious movements since the great miners’ strike of 1999, the protests simply shook the thrones of the whole political elite. The people in the squares realized that their enemy is not just the PDL and Băsescu, but also the rest of the political elite, which sold our economy for personal profit since the 1990s and has no other interests than getting power. It’s understandable how the opposition trembled at this idea as well! At one stage, the USL even organized its own protests composed of party members, in order to divert the workers from the genuine struggle. The opposition parties infiltrated the protests with their youth wings, attempting to change the slogans of the movement and repeatedly stated on the TV that they would support the protests, as long as the people would stop demanding early elections and the resigning of President Băsescu! The political piranhas of the USL saw in the protests only the means to seize power but, despite their success in winning support in regions like Moldova and some parts of Dobrogea, they did not succeed in the capital or many other parts of the country.

There was some political confusion present in the protests. In the city of Timisoara, some people even protested for the restoration of the monarchy! In some areas but also symbols of the nationalist extremist "New Right" organization, were also seen. In Bucharest, a few people raised portraits of Ceausescu with some illusions in an alternative based on the Stalinist past. However, others raised such portraits along with ones of President Băsescu, with the message, "The destiny of dictators is the same!", suggesting that Băsescu should, just as the former Stalinist dictator, be thrown to the annals of history by a revolution! However, countrywide the major features were anti-PDL and anti-USL slogans, along with banners expressing solidarity with workers in Greece or the "Indignados" in Spain. It is significant to note that during late January and early February, protest turnouts were sometimes as low as hundreds. But this can be attributed to the extreme cold, as Romania faces the hardest winter since 1954, with temperatures going as low as -34.8 °C in Alexandria city, and even lower in some rural areas.

Braving the winter and the dissolution of the Boc Government

Still, despite the fact that the protests were smaller during this period, it is still somwhat impressive that there were hundreds of people in the big cities protesting all day long at -20 °C! Besides, it was the mass support for the movement which was decisive. This, as well as the continuity of the protests led the Prime Minister to resign on 6 February. This is the clearest example yet in Europe of a protest movement bringing down a ruling government. This struggle shows that Romania is ready to enter the international struggle against austerity, the capitalist machine and the dictatorship of Wall Street and the banks.

However, similarly to in Tunisia and Egypt following the removal of Mubarak and Ben Ali, if the ministers are gone, but new ones will be put in place by a prime-minister appointed by the president, no significant change can will be won. In fact, many people even now continue to protest, demanding the fall of the president! In spite of this, Băsescu has insisted in more than one of his speeches, that it is his duty "not to leave the country during such hard times". He has often been associated by the local media with the Romanian Medieval tyrant-king "Alexandru Lăpușneanul", who said the famous words "If you don’t want me, I want you" to a lord who came to him and told him that he shouldn’t try to reconquer his throne because the people don’t want his rule again!

Protests have even grown in intensity since the news has arrived that the new Prime Minister is Răzvan Ungureanu, who worked as a secret service spy. Appointing such a man to the function of Prime Minister might be considered a move reminiscent of a military dictatorship, and could even further inflame the protest movement, especially after the cold season. The prime-minister is gone, but the political apparatus is the same and the dictatorship of the banks and the markets is still ruling Romania and attacking the working people with its iron fist of austerity and mass unemployment!

This is why we have to draw conclusions from these events, and propose a real revolutionary direction which would benefit the Romanian people. The Capitalist have three big parties in this country. The people need an alternative of their own!

Final Conclusion and our platform in Romania

The protests have had a loosely-organized nature and have never reached the absolutely massive scaleof other countries, but still, they had a serious effect in protecting the workers and the poor of Romania from draconian laws and the president’s tyranny.The protests must continue now in the revolutionary direction. They stopped a repressive capitalist law and had overthrown a government, but it is not enough! The working people of Romania must understand that in order to succeed in replacing this tyrannical regime, making their voices heard through demonstrations is the first step, not the only. The protests must go on and be further organized on working class demands correlating with a general strike! This requires democratic, fighting trade unions to be built, and the current leaders, who were dragged late into only partial support for the movement, removed and replaced with leaders accountable to the workers, on an average industrial wage.

The call for the President to step down, though correct, is not enough. Limiting the movement to this demand leaves open the danger of falling into the trap of the capitalist opposition parties who want to use this opportunity to seize the power for their elitist cliques! The movement must continue to be directed against the entire political class, and adopt a programme to this effect, for the destruction of the government of the financial elites and the corrupt politicians, which has drained the wealth of the nation in the last two decades. A mass working people’s party, democratically controlled by a mass membership, could play a crucial role in providing the struggle with a viable alternative programme.

This government must be replaced with a genuine workers’ government, which would, in the "spirit of October", the genuine traditions of democratic socialism and Marxism, immediately nationalize the banks under democratic control, kick out the IMF, invest in job creation, increase wages, and put all the big business and state enterprises under the democratic control of the working people, through democratic committees and assemblies of workers and youth. This alternative of genuine democratic socialism has nothing in common with the Stalinist dictatorship of Ceuasescu, which while ruling over a state-planned economy was lightyears away from the workers’ democracy defended by Marx, Lenin and Trotsky. A crucial task of genuine socialists and Marxists in Romania and throughout Western Europe is the explanation of this alternative, a task which we fight to carry out.

The elites have shown their weakness. Now, the protests must seize the moment and overthrow Băsescu’s dictatorship, along with the regime which suffocated the working class since 1990! Even if Basescu would step down, the austerity of the financial elites will still exist and will still worsen the conditions of the Romanian proletariat, the youth and unemployed. The Workers must understand that their real enemy is not just Basescu, and not even just the political class, but also the capitalist economic system itself, which drives the whole world in deep recessions and then gets it out at the detriment of the working class. All the workers must unite in worldwide solidarity to crush their common enemy, which isn’t Greece or some political party how the corporate media claims everywhere, but the financial markets and corporations!

We demand:

  • No to austerity! IMF out of Romania!
  • Transform the unions into democratic instruments of struggle and organise a strong general strike in solidarity with the protests!
  • For square protests with clear demands against austerity and the ruling elite! Build a mass working people’s party!
  • A socialist workers’ government in Romania to nationalize the banks, increase the wages of the working people, improve working conditions and assure a stable job housing to all
  • A democratic system in which the people’s representatives in the government will not be members of the ruling elite, but fellow working people elected in the unions
  • Nationalise the major companies and industries under democratic workers’ control! For a democratically planned economy benefiting the workers and the small businesses in Romania instead of the rich elite

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