Romanian civil servants prepare for a severe winter
Trouw, 7 October 2010

It is cold for the time of the year in Bucharest. The sky is grey and a raw wind blows through the dirty streets of the old centre. Nobody can ignore it any longer: Romania is in a deep crisis. And for those wanting to disregard the meteorological signs there are the many anti-government protests, following each other on an almost daily basis. Tuesday thousands of teachers took to the streets, while the unions have announced mass demonstrations for today.

The Romanians are infuriated by the 25 percent cut of wages in the public sector earlier this year. And this is only the official cut. Bonuses and compensations have been dropped as well and many government employees have seen their incomes diminished by one third. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank en the European Union provided Romania last year with an additional 20 billion euros of credits in order to bring new life to the crisis-ridden economy.

To meet the conditions of this loan the centre-right government of prime minister Emil Boc needs to seriously cut down on its' spending. This year alone over 15,000 civil servants have lost their jobs, while the remaining ones need to tighten their belts. Ironically enough, the IMF called the cutbacks on salaries as the wrong tools for the job.

,,It just isn't fair that we need to pay for those loans'', is how Ingrid Budu voiced a sentiment shared by many. The young English teacher from the provincial town of Suceava travelled 500 kilometres to attend Tuesday's protest. Since the cutbacks she makes a meagre 150 euro's monthly. By far too little to survive. Like many of her colleagues Budu now moonlights in the evenings and weekends. ,,Every month I have to choose: will I pay the gas bill, or do I buy food or something. I have colleagues at school who don't even have teeth, simply because they don't have money for the dentist.''

If things don't improve in Romania, Budu wants to leave. It's something many of her colleagues have already done. Teachers' unions estimate that in the previous six months some 2,000 teachers have fled the country. Doctors and nurses are also leaving Romania in large numbers. Health care is another sector where the cutbacks are being felt. And because medical staff now ask money from their patients, analysts fear the grey economy is on the rise as well.

The government's harsh policy therefore seems to do the country more harm than good. More and more the government, supported by only a small majority in parliament, is driven in a corner. According to recent polls a mere 13 percent of the Romanians still support prime minister Boc. And the oppositional social-democrats (supported by 40 percent in the polls) announced this week to come up with a no-confidence vote before the end of the month, after which a crisis government is to be formed. The vote may find a majority in parliament. Even within Emil Boc's own party voices can be heard for him to resign. The prime minister, however, intends to stick to his policy, saying his critics are populists. ,,This government simply refuses to talk to us'', literature teacher Alexandru Nicolae said.

Whether the government can afford this attitude much longer, remains to be seen. ,,Winter is coming. All the bills are going up, while or salaries are only going down'', said Nicolae, while teachers around him ominously started singing the national anthem. ,,Wake up, Romanian, from that deadly slumber.''