Andreea Badiu-Slabu is one of Breaking the Glass Ceiling’s regular contributors.
At the end of January, the streets of Romania were filled with tens of thousands of people protesting against corruption. People were dissatisfied with the current laws that could weaken the judicial independence and couldn’t take it anymore. Despite the heavy snow, an estimated number of 50,000 people marched towards the parliament expressing their frustration. Last year, around the same time, people were protesting against the effort of the majority party to decriminalise some corruption offences. It was the largest protest since the 1989 fall of communism. As we have seen, corruption is embedded in the political system of the country and this goes back to the period after the break of communism.
In 1989, the transformations in the Eastern part of Europe triggered a shift not only from communism to democracy, but also from a planned economy to a market one. There was a “snowball effect” across the Eastern and Central parts of Europe (ECE), creating a certain state of mind. The Polish Roundtable Talks that took place between February and April 1989 triggered the downfall of the communist regimes in ECE. The collapse of the communist regime in Romania was violent and non-negotiated compared to the other countries. Those who took the lead right after the revolution were the second- and third-rank nomenklatura as the opposition did not manage to organize politically.
The attitude towards corruption changed when Romania wanted a place at the European Union’s table. For that to happen, the country had to fulfil some conditions including combating corruption. Thus, Romania established in 2002 a national anti-corruption directorate (DNA) which took the lead in the fight against official misconduct. Laura Codruta Kovesi, DNA’s chief prosecutor represents the face of Romania’s efforts to combat corruption. Recently, she has been under pressure as the Minister of Justice pushed for her dismissal because of mismanagement. However, she can only be fired by Klaus Iohannis, the Romanian president who refused to do it amid the pressure from the Ministry of Justice Tudorel Toader. She thinks business people and politicians are trying to undermine her power as she represents a threat to them. ‘There is a slander campaign against our institution which takes place almost daily,’ Kovesi said. The National Anti-Corruption Directorate is the most efficient body that deals with corruption and it has managed to convict numerous politicians.
The man behind the revamp of the justice system is Liviu Dragnea, the chairman of the ruling Social Democratic party. He is currently involved in several criminal cases in which he is accused of wrongdoing. The Social Democrats managed to win in the last parliamentary election because of general disappointment with the political system along with the low turnout. Less than 40% of people went to the polls leaving the country in the hands of corrupt people.
On February 14, Ms Kovesi held a press conference in which she declared that the fight against corruption must go on and she is not willing to resign.’ The justice system has been under attack for a year. And look who is attacking it: the accused, those sent for trial. People with the money and the resources to discredit this institution. These people want to bring the justice system to its knees, and to humiliate Romanian society and the Romanian people.’ For more than two hours, she responded to the accusations without any notes.
Over 3,800 cases were solved only in 2017 by the DNA which is the highest number of cases since the organization was established. Although DNA was established in 2002, its power grew when Ms Kovesi became its chief prosecutor in 2013. Opinion polls showed that the public trusted it twice more than the government. Last year, Ms Kovesi received France’s Legion of Honour for her work.
The transition process of Romania finalised in theory when it joined the EU, but in reality, the country still struggles. Anton Shekhovtsov expresses this view by indicating that ‘democracy is slowly progressing in Romania’. The country still remains one of the EU’s most corrupt states according to Transparency International. But, Ms Kovesi has demonstrated that the fight against corruption will continue no matter what. She has become quite powerful and this jeopardizes some politicians’ positions.
Gillet, K. 2017, ‘We must fight on– Romania’s crusader against corruption will not back down’, The Guardian
Peel, M. 2018, ‘Romania anti-corruption chief hits out at critics’, Financial Times
Turp, C. 2018, ‘Romania’s Anti-Corruption Boss Vows to Fight On’, Emerging Europe