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Here’s Why Romanian Politics Are Blowing Up Yet Again


Photographer: Adrian Catu/AFP via Getty Images

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No Eastern Bloc country marked the end of its communist epoch quite as decisively and brutally as Romania, where dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena were executed by firing squad on Christmas Day in 1989. The president’s death brought hopes of a fresh start, but Romania has been plagued ever since by corruption and revolving-door governments -- despite having joined NATO and the European Union in the interim. The latest round of political turmoil has brought down yet another government and could lead to Romania’s first-ever snap election and a new ruling coalition.

Romanians had been protesting for the past two-and-a-half years against the ruling Social Democratic government. The controversy dates back to 2016, when the party, then led by Liviu Dragnea, won national elections. Dragnea was convicted the same year of trying to fix a referendum and was blocked from becoming prime minister. Instead, he ran the country from behind the scenes, allegedly instructing ministers to undermine an unprecedented anti-corruption drive that had begun to gain traction and to enact laws to shield him from prison as his legal difficulties mounted. Ultimately unsuccessful, his efforts sparked the biggest protests since communism, with crowds swelling to as many as a half-million people across the country. The Dragnea episode soured ties with the EU and drew comparisons to contemporary infringements of the rule of law in Poland and Hungary.