Clear blue skies, sunshine and daytime highs of 20 degrees centigrade in this picturesque Transylvanian city: an idyllic background for the opening of the AEJ’s annual Congress here on Friday.
Meanwhile in Bucharest, nearly 300 kilometers away, tens of thousands of demonstrators have held a week of protests that forced the resignation of the prime minister and his entire government.
The mayor of Sibiu, Astrid Fodor, welcomed AEJ journalists from across Europe — the former western Europe and the former Eastern Europe. Protestors have poured into the streets here, too. And journalists, she said. have a responsibility to report honestly about what lies behind the current turmoil.
Monica Macovei, a Romanian MEP and former justice minister, said it more directly: the people have taken to the streets to protest against corruption, she said. Because ‘corruption kills’.
Ms Macovei was talking about last week’s nightclub fire in Bucharest in which over 30 people died. People now want a change in the country’s whole political system, she said, and the ‘corrupt political class’must go..
As for the Romanian media, she welcomed the fact that some journalists are doing independent reporting but mostly she said the media are owned by political figures and fail to reflect the people’s will and the real situation in Romania. Journalists are ‘practically bought by politicians and parties’, she asserted.
It is only through journalists that the corrupt practices that lay behind the fatal fire got out. And, she added, it is only through journalists that the story will be told. It is journalists’ responsibility to report honestly and expose corruption.
Corruption, she suggested, is endemic in Romania’s fledgling democracy. It’s a major obstacle holding Romania back. And corruption is the over-riding issue for angry demonstrators not only in Bucharest but also just around the corner last night in Sibiu.
Ms. Macovei has built a political career on fighting corruption. As justice minister she was credited with starting a serous anti-corruption drive that was required for Romania to join the European Union in 2007. She is currently a member of the Conservatives and Reformists Group in the European Parliament.
Romania’s President got elected – even though he comes from Romania’s relatively small German minority here – by associating himself with the National Liberal Party, one of the two main political parties in Romania. The other one, the Social Democrats, formed the government until it fell. Iohannis was scheduled to be at the AEJ meeting in person, but had to cancel to deal with the political crisis
The Social Democrats are a successor party to that of the former Communist rulers of Romania. Its prime minister was already facing trial on corruption charges – tax evasion, money laundering, conflict of interest, false statements. That prime minister lost presidential elections a year ago to Iohannis.
But Iohannis has appointed a member of the prime minister’s cabinet and party as interim prime minister. And it may stay in power legally until scheduled elections in more than a year – December 2016 – because parliament, under the control of the Social Democrats, has to vote twice to reject any new government before there can be new elections.
And although the protests were sparked by the deadly nightclub fire, they have been fuelled by a series of simmering issues which have made many protestors deeply suspicious of the political establishment and clamouring for change.
Ms. Macovei pointed out that corruption is also a dominant issue nowadays in states such as Moldova, historically part of Romania, where $1 billion went missing a from the central bank a few months ago – a revelation which has also provoked a spate of major protest demonstrations.