For almost a week Romania is again looking like the Romania of the early 90s: barricades, street clashes, tear gas, injured people. The protests are against the austerity policies of the government and most of all, against the health-care "reform".
Demonstrators threw stones and Molotov cocktails at the police, the police responded with tear gas. In Bucharest and some other towns like Timisoara the protesters expressed their indignation from the slashing of salaries and social benefits, the tax hike and the omnipresent corruption and nepotism in the system.
Meanwhile the protests in Bucharest reached their culmination during the weekend. The police arrested dozens of protesters. There were injured on both sides. The prime-minister Emil Boc said "Throwing stones is no solution to the problems. What we need is a dialogue".
So far the biggest protests have taken place in Bucharest, Timisoara, Craiova, Cluj and Iasi. The angry wave started last Thursday, initially in solidarity with the health-care workers. In an agreement with the IMF that was meant to prevent Romania from going bankrupt like Greece, the government took the obligation to steer the ship into an even tougher course of cutbacks in almost all sectors, including (and most extreme) in health-care. So far the president Basescu has strictly advocated for keeping this course and has earned much criticism from various circles, including within the ruling coalition.
It's true that the Romanian health-care needs urgent overhaul. The reform has been the central element in the protests. And now Basescu looks likely to make a step back in the face of this mounting pressure from all sides. He hinted that he'd respect the opinion of the majority of his people in regards to the health-care reform, and he eventually backpedalled and asked the prime-minister to withdraw the draft legislation - which he eventually did.
Until now Basescu kept demonstrating that he'd stay firm despite the protests. But the ambiguous signals from the ruling parties and their apparent reluctance to follow suit and be as firm about the health-care reform, was obviously the thing that finally forced him to make concessions. Of course there's no doubt that the Romanian health-care system is in a desperate need of drastic reforms, but the "cut'n'run" or "sell everything" tactic is meeting a staunch resistance from almost all segments of society.
The state-run health-care in Romania is one of the most corrupt in Europe, and on top of that, it's ridiculously expensive. Nearly 90% of the Romanians are extremely unhappy with the existing health-care system. Meanwhile, many of them are fearing that if the system is liberalized and is put on a free-market principle, it would become even more inaccessible for a vast chunk of them. Right now you practically can't get a proper medical treatment if you don't cough up some bribe (there are even unofficial "price lists" for the various services). With the new plan, even that wouldn't make those services accessible to enormous chunks of the Romanian people.
In these strained circumstances, it's no surprise that a significant portion of the Romanians are openly expressing a nostalgia for the Ceausescu era, as if they've forgotten what it was like under his rule. Their point is that they at least had some security and a social "existence-minimum", albeit with zero political freedoms.
The painful transition to a market economy, marred with lots of underwater stones, vicious circles and dead ends, has aggravated many Romanians and brought a sense of desperation. A period of two decades filled with strife, unemployment and uncertainty, which nurtured the sentiment that they had actually lived in better times under communism, while forgetting the misery, terror and all sorts of human rights violations they had been subjected to for the previous half a century. Unfortunately, change doesn't happen overnight, by giving the bad dictator to the shooting squad and burying his body. Many problems have remained there ever since.
Of course, Romania is far from being a failed state, no way. With its NATO and EU entry it has made some huge leaps forward, both economically and in terms of geopolitical stature. The young generation in particular were mostly spared the economic privation, and have picked the fruits of democracy - such as freedom of speech and the freedom of movement, access to education abroad, etc. They are hardly impressed by the nostalgic talk about Ceausescu. That topic is now irrelevant to them. It's mostly a topic being fanned by the media and some of the older talking heads. But all this doesn't mean that the problems are still not there, and it is in such times of extreme economic hardships that the Romanians are most prone to taking to the streets and making their voices heard. And the rulers better listen to them this time, or things would only get worse for them.