On 31 January, during an evening session that was suspiciously secretive, the Romanian government adopted two ordinances changing the country’s penal code. The measures were immediately seen by many as a clumsy attempt to decriminalise certain corruption offences, with the main beneficiaries being the politicians of the ruling party. Street protests broke out during that night, culminating last Sunday in the biggest demonstration since the fall of communism.
These events bring into sharp relief the main features of a volatile situation in eastern Europe where three forces vie for dominance: disconnected and sometimes corrupt “traditional” politicians, increasingly impatient and angry publics and assertive demagogues.
The east central Europe that shed communism in 1989 is a convenient laboratory to observe the emergence of a new politics. It is not necessarily due to its politicians being more corrupt, its demagogues flashier (who can compete with Trump?) and its publics angrier. It is more because its democracies are still fresher, more “basic”, their institutions not yet wrapped in a resilient layer of protective pro-democratic cultures. The whole system is thus more exposed to pressure tests.
Such tests should be easier to withstand in countries ensconced in the EU’s legal and institutional structures. So that this volatility takes place within the EU provokes, in some, extra disquiet. The EU can and should act against leaders’ transgressions, for example…