Romanian protests recall universal struggle

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UD students stand in front of the Palace of Parliament in Bucharest during their Rome semester in the spring of 2016, a year before the current protests. Photo by Amanda Jesse.

Over the past month, protests have continued in Bucharest, the capital of Romania, against the administration passing laws that legalize forms of corruption.

While these protests are half a world away and may seem to be another in the litany of protests taking place around the world recently, they are worth attention.

During this week in 2016, as Facebook keeps reminding me, I was in Romania.

It is a surreal experience seeing those photographs I took of giant golden icons and towering Transylvanian mountains pop up on my timeline, as I eat mac and cheese from the pot so I don’t have to do extra dishes.

Seeing these protests on the news brings to mind the city of Bucharest and the experiences I had there.

What stood out to me most about my time there was not the artwork, architecture or even the delicious food, but the spirit of the Romanian people.

None of our motley group of travelers really knew anything about Romania before going — we had made the decision with hopes of an inexpensive long weekend and the vague desire to see Dracula’s Castle.

We decided to go on a free walking tour, which led us through the historic sites of the city that once was called Little Paris in the early 1900s for its imitative architecture.

We stopped at medieval rastaurants and inns, Eastern churches with beautiful mosaic work, and a statue of Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration for Count Dracula.

Then we came to the looming Palace of Parliament.

With its 12 floors above ground, eight below and thousands of mysterious rooms, this monument of the communist dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu was a symbol of the darkest times in Romanian history.

During Ceauşescu’s tenure in the 1980s, Romania was the richest nation in the world, and yet its people starved and froze to death in their own homes.

Thousands of children were left orphaned and abandoned. Those children who were not adopted, often through foreign intervention, make up most of Romania’s current homeless population.

The havoc wreaked by Ceauşescu’s regime was nothing short of a humanitarian crisis — and it is still very recent in the national memory.

In light of this, the current government’s attempts to decriminalize corruption were naturally met with strong resistance. To many, there was likely the fear that history was repeating itself.

Our tour finished in University Square, a semi-circle of cobblestones dotted with statues of academics and horsemen and located, aptly, across the street from the University of Bucharest.

In this square, Piaţa Universităţii, Ceauşescu’s government met its first resistance.

University students clashed with police in a bloody conflict that was the start of a revolution that ended in death by the firing squad for the dictator and his wife in 1989.

Since throwing off communism, Romania has had a rocky climb to democratic government.

Before the current uprisings, there were significant protests as recently as 2013.

However these protests have been largely nonviolent and moderately successful in influencing the administration.

This brings me to the source of my admiration.

Despite their struggles, despite the hardships that their parents, grandparents and they themselves have undergone, the people of Bucharest had a prevailing sense of hope.

Throughout the city were investments in the future: extensive student discounts; a large playground built across the street from the Palace of Parliament; a children’s ballet at the major opera house.

The Romanian people are taking their fate into their own hands.

Their struggle is a reminder that democracy takes work and requires sacrifice.

It requires citizens who care, who are informed and who are as invested in the plights of their neighbor as they are in their own.

The type of government that they fight for is the kind that Americans often take for granted.

So when I read a story about the protests in Romania, I can’t help but feel a connection.

Their fight is the same as that of every person who hopes for a government that will uphold freedom and equality.

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