Outsider looking in at Romania

Last Update:

I got interested on how Romanians overthrew their dictator on Christmas Day of 1989 after reading a brief write-up on it on a Banksy picture-book. Below is an excerpt from BBC News1:

Nicolae Ceaușescu, the Communist leader, had become more and more totalitarian over the years, and his secret police, the Securitate, were ferocious.

By mid-December, people from Romania’s oppressed Hungarian-speaking minority were protesting in the streets of Timisoara.

No-one dared to tell Ceausescu how serious the Timisoara rioting was, so he had no worries about calling a counter-demonstration in Bucharest on 21 December.

The Securitate bussed in factory workers to make the turnout seem bigger, and in the anonymity of the crowd some people started booing. Ceausescu froze in mid-speech, his mouth open: he had never been heckled before.

People watching the live television broadcast saw his sudden vulnerability.

That night the revolution broke out in earnest. The next morning, 22 December, he and his wife Elena clambered into a helicopter just as the crowd was breaking into his headquarters, and headed north.

But the pilot soon landed, claiming he had run out of fuel. The Ceausescus’ bodyguards melted away. Elena, tougher than her husband, pulled out a gun and hijacked a passing car. In the end, though, they were captured.

That night… someone announced that the couple had been executed by firing squad.

Many, many years, later, the struggles in Romania continue. Each time an evil is removed, something itches to replace it.

Below is an excerpt from CrimethInc.’s article “The ‘Light Revolution in Romania2 on what would be the roles of anarchists:

In the wake of the alter-globalization movement, anarchists in Romania shifted from prioritizing direct action and lifestyle to local organizing and community building. Today, the anarchist movement is diffused into hybrid collectives that run social centers and cooperatives, engage in political art, edit zines, and participate in grassroots organizations addressing housing, evictions, borders, workers’ rights, and intersectional feminist issues. This focus on solidarity and cross-class organization stands out in a context otherwise characterized by NGO-dominated activism.

Although there are some NGOs that work towards emancipatory ends, NGOization has taken a tremendous toll in Romania, defining how people understand grassroots self-organized resistance. The worst aspect of this is that it has promoted a self-centered vision of activism in which liberal methods developed by the NGO industry are the only valid means of organizing. NGOs have absorbed most of the people interested in political work, contributing to the isolation of the radical movement. Confrontational tactics are seen as romantic and childish.

Anarchists were heavily involved in the 2012 anti-austerity protests, the 2013 Roșia Montană mobilization, and the 2015 Colectiv protests. We foregrounded our anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, and radical ecological messages, organizing occupations and direct actions. At the same time, we were confronting the rising affirmation of the middle class center-right ethos, which intensified through the 2015 Colectiv protests to reach its peak in the 2017 anti-corruption protests.

There have been attempts to open up space for discussion, but tactics that were successful in the past have failed miserably in recent years, only succeeding in engaging a marginal “leftist” minority. In these current demonstrations, it has been impossible to be heard in the overwhelming conflict between two competing ideological apparatuses that have a far wider capacity to mobilize resources and people than a handful of anarchists. On one side, we are talking about the biggest populist party in Romania, with half a million members; on the other, an aspiring young middle class that has the material resources and backing of much of the mainstream media and the President as well. The scene for radical politics is often divided; while there is a somewhat growing interest in leftist politics, it is usually mobilized around diluted social-democratic issues or organizations championed by leftist intellectuals and NGOs.

One of the most damaging aspects of the 2017 anti-corruption movement is the affirmation of nonviolence as the foundation of legitimate protest. Any discussion about self-defense or how violence is defined in the first place is labeled as an attempt to discredit the movement. Meanwhile, nonviolence is normalized in flowery graphic design, in the idea of protest as a fun activity characterized by live music, dancing, and so on.

The second problematic principle is the notion that “everyone is welcome, because this is true democracy.” Excluding fascists and nationalists is dismissed as authoritarianism. Meanwhile, messages against neoliberalism and in favor of social justice have repeatedly been excluded from the protests. The general affect of the crowd is rage against the “Red Plague” and scorn for all social issues.

Another characteristic of this wave of protests is the sudden rash of pop-up saviors. Several families in Bucharest were evicted from their homes in a run-down social housing building, prompting an explosion of solidarity. Anarchists and grassroots housing rights organizations had been involved in the struggle against gentrification for a long time, but the eviction brought out a huge number of people trying to help in the spirit of newly awakened civic engagement. We can hardly criticize people bringing in supplies that provide material relief; but if we look deeper, we can see that this approach is not emancipatory for anyone involved in the process. It undercuts the work that long-term activists have put into building community with one of the most targeted populations in the city, while creating a hierarchical dynamic between the evicted community and the people trying to help. Charity does not help people to form relations that could be the basis of political struggles against evictions.

While the short-term interests of the people in the streets may be antagonistic to those of much of the Romanian population, they remain a precarious class with an uncertain future. Multinational corporations were attracted to Romania because of the cheap labor force, but in certain sectors of the economy the wages have been going up for a while now. Obviously, this will not last. In this respect, this mobilization might have some potential for the future, in that now people are used to taking to the streets when something bothers them. However, it is unclear what the ideology behind the next wave of mobilization will be. The most important thing is that anarchists continue to organize locally around issues that can bring together people from different social backgrounds to fight our common enemies.

The general mood within the local left and anti-authoritarians right now is that resistance has to be organized apart from these protests… If mass protests don’t contribute to local struggles or grassroots organization, it is hard to be optimistic about them. The question for us, then, is where to focus our energy when mass protests do not accommodate our politics—and how to change that.


  1. Simpson, J. (2019, December 29). How crowds toppled communism’s house of cards in 1989. BBC News. Retrieved December 25, 2021, from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-50821545 ↩︎

  2. CrimethInc. Ex-Workers Collective. (2017, March 9). The Light Revolution in Romania. CrimethInc. https://crimethinc.com/2017/03/09/the-light-revolution-in-romania-when-toppling-the-government-isnt-enough ↩︎