Stanescu-Bellu: Rezistăm Împreună

The recent protests in Romania show the true power of the people.

by Sofia Stanescu-Bellu | 2/14/17 12:35am

My mom vividly remembers the protests of 1989. She remembers the energy of the crowd as they chanted for the end of the communist government, young men and women like her yearning for a change, the glint of red, yellow and blue as protesters waved the Romanian flag with pride and the feeling of unity and belonging as she stood there in a crowd of thousands standing strong against a common enemy.

She also remembers the cold, unfeeling, black tanks rolling up into the square and my grandfather, a retired colonel, grabbing her arm and rushing her away from the prefecture, telling her above the noise of the crowd that those were real guns. She remembers the fear, crouching under the table in darkness in our apartment in Timișoara, hearing the sound of bullets piercing through windows and walls, and sometimes tearing through flesh and bone. Now whenever I am back in Romania, I can see the scars those bullets left in buildings. Chips of stone that chronicle the turn of the decade, the arrival of a new era that was paid for in blood.

Those protests were not uncommon in the early 1990s. In those days, the air was filled with hope and change as countries began to throw off the shackles of communism and fight for the freedom they deserved. Romania was no different: the protests from the hundreds of thousands of people like my mother created a revolution that brought an end to the autocratic regime of the communist politician Nicolae Ceaușescu. Following his deposal, the country was united through the passion and sacrifices of its youth and fought valiantly for two decades to create a democratic system after suffering for 40 years under communism. It’s still a work in progress — there have been many setbacks and Romania ranked 57th in the world for corruption in 2016.

Recently, those in power have forgotten, or are ignoring, the revolution of their youth. They have forgotten the lives lost, the blood shed, the innocence stolen for democracy. On Jan. 31, Romania’s Social Democratic government passed a law that decriminalized corruption by protecting politicians from prosecution. In a country that was once inundated by corruption — and still is, to some extent — this move was a heavy blow and was rightfully met by anger, sadness and outrage.

Ironically, it was the generation that had brought about the first revolution that implemented this action, acting against the very nature of those fateful protests in 1989. Parents now betrayed their children, but the children did not sit in silence. People turned out in waves: over 150,000 strong in Victory Square in Bucharest and twice that nationwide, the most protestors in my country since 1989, calling for the repeal of this law that would undo hard-fought progress. Just like in 1989, the crowd was alive and unified, red, yellow and blue Romanian flags whipped through the air, millions of twinkling little lights from cell phones lit up the night sky, showing that the protestors wouldn’t back down — that corruption was not acceptable and that lives weren’t lost for decades of progress to be undone by a furtive vote from cowardly members of parliament in the darkness of the night.

There is a powerful image floating around the internet. It features a photograph from 1989 of a young man holding a sign that reads “our children will be free.” Next to it is a picture from 2017 with a young woman holding a sign that reads “the children of the revolution are here.” The children of the revolution raised their voices in unison. On Feb. 4, the Social Democratic Party, ordered into submission by the will of the people, announced that it would withdraw the law originally passed on Jan. 31, a response all government officials should make under such heavy public opposition.

The children of the revolution are here.

This action wasn’t enough for the hundreds of thousands of protestors. No, as of today, they still stand in town centers across Romania, in Bucharest, Sibiu, Brașov and my hometown of Timișoara, calling for the resignation of those lawmakers that abandoned the will of the people. Romanians want a future in our country that is not tainted by corruption. Will we be successful? I can’t say for sure, but we Romanians are tough, resilient and stubborn. When we want change, we do anything and everything to get it. These protestors prove that.

Romania’s history should serve as a lesson for the world that the voices of the people do matter and that we should not let the government and lawmakers make choices that compromise our values and integrity, the very ideas that countries are built on. It is the duty of the people to stand up and point out the injustices, to stand up and demand change. As Thomas Jefferson said, “When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty.”

I am an introverted person. Besides these columns, I don’t overtly express my opinions — political or otherwise — and prefer to observe from the sidelines. I have never protested or taken part in a political event in my life. Yet seeing these protests in Romania and the power of the movement, the pride for their — my — country and the unity made me feel powerful emotions I’ve never felt before. I feel a sense of homesickness, a longing to be on those streets with my people, protesting for Romania’s future and standing proud for values that I grew up with and the country that I will always call home. This is the revolution of lights, and I want nothing more than to add my little light into this constellation of millions.