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news 07 Feb 17

Romanian Protests Inspire Activists Across Balkans

The echo of the huge anti-graft protests in Romania is being heard all over the Balkans, where opposition politicians and civic activists hope to capture a similar spirit of defiance.

Tirana, Sofia, Sarajevo, Podgorica, Belgrade
 Protests in Romania are continuing although the cabinet repealed its controversial corruption decree. Photo: Beta/AP.

People all over the Balkans have taken to social media to show solidarity with the massive anti-government protest in Romania - but also to regret the lack of will for people in their own countries to do the same.

Influenced by events in Romania, the opposition in Albania plans an anti-government protest on February 18, accusing the government of corruption and of having ties with organised crime.

Romania's  anti-corruption rallies have clearly inspired opposition Democratic Party leader Lulzim Basha who took to Facebook over the weekend to share a video of hundreds of thousands of Romanian protesting.

"An example of popular courage by Romanian citizens. On February 18 we are going to stand together in Tirana," he announced.

However, some doubt whether the Albanian opposition can match the Romanian spirit of protest.

At a time when a major judicial reform is the hot issue in Albania, some analysts believe that this should be the focus of concern by Albanians.

They call for resistance to judges and prosecutors who are questioning the judicial reform that is about to be implemented.

"Away from Romania, judges and prosecutors in Albania who have captured the system are doing the same thing [de-criminalising corruption]. They don't want the reform because they and their protected politicians could get punished," an editorial on TemA portal read.

An estimated 600,000 Romanians protested in the capital city, Bucharest, and in other cities on Sunday against a decree that would have effectively shielded some officials from prosecution on corruption charges.

The street protests have been on a scale not seen since the fall of communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989.

New protests were expected on Tuesday, as demonstrators demanded the resignation of the Social Democrat-led government and early elections and said they had no faith in the government's goodwill.

Activists in Bulgaria staged a rally in front of the Romanian embassy in Sofia on Sunday in solidarity with the anti-corruption protests in Romania, with people carrying Bulgarian and Romanian flags and posters reading: “Romania, Bulgaria Supports You”, and “United Against Corruption."

Thousands of Romanians sent messages and pictures of gratitude for the gesture of solidarity made by their neighbours.

In Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia, some have noted the demonstrations in Romania with admiration, calling for rallies in their own countries against corruption, organised crime and the poor state of the economy.

In Montenegro, one of the leaders of the main opposition Democratic Front, Nebojsa Medojevic, said Romanians have shown a greater level of political culture and willingness to defend the public interest than the citizens of Montenegro.

"Romanians have shown that the policy of mass protest, which the Front has advocated for two years, is the only effective policy against thieves in power," he wrote on twitter on Monday.

In Bosnia, the the Head of EU Delegation and EU Special Representative, Lars-Gunnar Wigemark, caused debate when he reffered to the anti-corruption protests in Romania and tweeted: "And when will this happen in BiH?"

In Serbia, civil society activists and journalists took to social media to support the demonstrations and express regret that their country lacks the same spirit of resistance.

The popular Serbian satirical portal Njuz.net wrote an ironic article entitled: "Citizens of Serbia ask Romanians to protest a little quieter because they are bothered by the noise."

"Most citizens of Serbia, groggy after another sleepless night, sent a sharp protest to Romanians who are making an awful noise, protesting against their own government throughout Romania," it said.

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