|Demonstrators in Bucharest Jan. 15 protest austerity and demand ouster of government.|
The demonstrations began after the government of President Traian Basescu and Prime Minister Emil Boc launched a new round of cuts against the state health care system, provoking the resignation of Deputy Health Minister Raed Arafat. Rapidly the protests grew and spread, leading to demands for an end to the attacks and the ouster of Basescu’s government.
These cuts—and the protests against them—are part of the deepening economic and social crisis in Europe, a result of the decline in capitalist production, trade and employment internationally.
Thousands marched in Bucharest Jan. 24, including unionized workers, teachers, nurses and retired officers, reported the Guardian.
Active duty military personnel are prohibited from protesting government policy. But Lt. Alexandru Gheorghe, an active-duty officer, gained prominence when he traveled 300 miles from the base where he is stationed to take part. “I can no longer bear the way we are insulted,” he told the media. “I saw old people beaten and said to myself that we …must have the courage to fight and tell the truth here in our country.”
Some 5,000 people rallied in Iasi, the country’s second largest city. Demonstrations have also taken place in Cluj, Timisoara, Deva and Galati. Like in many other Eastern European countries, the Stalinist regime of Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania fell in 1989. These regimes, claiming to be communist but in fact ruling over a system worse than capitalism, systematically drove the working class out of politics.
The fall of the Stalinist governments brought the development of capitalist social relations and greater integration into capitalist trade and finance. At the same time, it opened up the class struggle and the political space for working people to organize and defend their interests.
The worldwide capitalist economic crisis had a major impact in Romania, precipitating a government fiscal crisis at the end 2008. The government turned to the International Monetary Fund, European Union, and World Bank, obtaining $26 billion in loans and implementing harsh economic austerity.
The effects have been devastating.
Romania now ranks second to last in Europe in workers’ standard of living, according to Eurostat figures. In 2010, the government reduced the wages of state workers by 25 percent. In 2011, average purchasing power diminished by 30 percent due to wage cuts and price hikes, including a 5 percent jump in sales tax. Between 2007 and 2011, new car sales dropped 74 percent to 3.8 per 1,000, the lowest in Europe.
Fifteen percent of workers lost their jobs in 2009-2010. Some 200,000 small businesses shuttered their doors. Government benefits were slashed 15 percent.
“We are here to protest, we cannot face it any more, we have no money to survive, our pensions are so small, the expenses are more than we can afford,” a demonstrator who identified himself as Sorin told the Associated Press at the Jan. 24 rally in Bucharest.
Health care has been hard hit. Following a series of cuts, Bucharest now spends less on health care than any other government in the European Union.
Constantin Grigore told the BBC that his son died in 2010 after he was taken to the hospital with a simple broken arm. He caught an infection there, and received no medical care. The family had to buy painkillers with their own money. They gave the hospital the equivalent of $6, all they had. It wasn’t enough.
Seventy hospitals have been closed. Doctors’ salaries, which start around $400 a month, are being cut 25 percent. Heavily indebted hospitals have few drugs or medical supplies.
New proposed cuts prompted protest from Deputy Minister Arafat. He was publicly rebuked by the government, and resigned in protest, sparking the current round of demonstrations.
The mobilizations have forced a series of concessions from the Basescu regime, including the reversal of the latest round of cuts in health care and the restoration of Arafat to his position.
The government was forced to sack Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi after it became public he called the protestors “inept and violent slum-dwellers.”
While the workers face crushing austerity, the thin strata of those who have enriched themselves are looking for more. The country’s “elite,” Perer Janku from the Romanian editorial team at Deutsche Welle said, “already have plenty of money and are looking for new opportunities to do more business.”
The drive to foist the burden of the unfolding economic crisis of capitalism on the backs of Romania’s working class is viewed as a model of sorts by capitalist pundits from Europe to the U.S.—an example of what needs to be done to restore profitability.
“The austerity policies have helped Romania to put its troubled finances on a steadier footing,” Radu Marinas wrote for Reuters Jan. 19.
More protests are projected.
“Romanians protest not only because they are unhappy with the austerity measures,” Prime Minister Boc said in a speech Jan. 23, “but because they are unhappy with the entire political class in Romania, not only the government.”
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