Engaging people around problems in Romania

Published: 12 July 2019

“Corruption in Romania raises many concerns, but it also ignites engagement,”  Oana Preda, director of CeRe.

Not long ago, Romanian NGOs active in the field of anti-corruption were described as foreign agents who had sold their souls to the enemy. Today, with support from Civitates, a new coalition of like-minded organizations works to improve regulations for civil society in the country.

Oana Preda is the director of CeRe (‘Demand’) and one of the initiators of the new coalition.

Are there any recent developments in Romania with regard to the civic space?
Actually yes, two good things have happened. One of our main concerns was related to the implementation of the European Anti-Money Laundering Directive. For a long time, our coalition, together with many other organizations, has been trying to convince Members of Parliament to amend the law to be more favorable to NGOs. After many discussions the NGOs together succeeded; the law has been improved and approved by the Parliament. The last step is for the president to proclaim it. The other positive news is that the Parliament has rejected a bill that caused great concern among civic activists. It would have allowed for easier dissolution of NGOs and could have been used as another means to silence criticism in society. Fortunately, the Parliament rejected the bill.

Are NGOs often hindered in their work?
There have been some accusations that NGOs are endangering the nation. A government official posted the official medical diagnosis of a protester on Facebook, revealing his mental illness to the world and discrediting him. And then there was the anti-corruption protest last summer, where a lot of violence was used against peaceful protesters. That episode is now under investigation by the police.

You have recently set up a large coalition in Romania to fight incidents like these. What will be your first joint activity?
We have already cooperated in amending the law around anti-money laundering, and one of our short-term plans is to try to open a parliamentary debate on the country’s outdated public assembly legislation. The Minister of the Interior has informally announced his intention to modify the law, and we are quite sure that she will propose changes that we do not like. We will put forward some recommendations to ensure that if the law is modified it will be in a way that improves rather than limits democracy. Moreover, we propose a special committee at the Parliament, with constant participation of civil society, to address the legislation on civic space.

In earlier interviews you emphasized that it is important to demonstrate that you are a large, determined group in order to advocate successfully. How have you been mobilizing people?
We have literally gone from door to door to engage people, trying to identify who was ready to move outside their comfort zones and pinpointing the issues that bring people together in collective action. What did we learn? That people become engaged whenever their personal interests are affected, whenever they have the chance to address what they perceive as their problems. So that’s what we do; we try to engage people around their problems.

How did you get involved in this work?
I have worked in the sector since 1996, when I was a student. I wanted to make good use of my time and to better understand the labor market. I started to volunteer with the Pro Democracy Association, and since then have been working for NGOs. Sometimes the work gets frustrating, but it’s hard to imagine doing anything else.

What is your dream for Romania?
I hope that Romania will become a country where there is solidarity amongst groups of people, and where everyone, even vulnerable groups, can make their voice heard to decision makers.