“By the way, Russia had the first sexual revolution. Lenin was a big homosexual; as for Karl and Marx, I think they were together. But they realized on their own it was going nowhere.”
— 3 milioane1
On 6 and 7 October 2018, in what has become known as the family referendum, some Romanians voted on changing the definition of marriage in the Constitution, from the union between two spouses to that between man and woman. Many more Romanians abstained or actively boycotted the referendum with the felicitous result of only 21.1 percent participation, not even close to the 30 percent threshold required for validation. What are the stakes? As Cristian Lungu, senator and president of the center-right PMP Cluj (People’s Movement Party) summarizes tendentiously, the referendum is all about “reclaiming our country from the grip of the neo-Marxist–progressive–anarchist revolution that promotes moral, cultural relativism and gender ideology.” His is only one of many voices on the Right identifying the referendum with a bid for independence, national sovereignty, and desirable distance from an EU steeped into the sins of liberalism and relativism. It’s no wonder that this referendum provided a domestic opening for the first public grumblings about a possible ROEXIT.
In the past four weeks, Romania has witnessed some of the biggest protests in the post-communist era. Hundreds of thousands of people in cities across the country took to the streets to protest a government bill that would potentially decriminalize corruption offenses and therefore help the case of the ruling Social Democratic Party leader. Hence, at home and in the international press, the protests were framed as a struggle between the corrupt government and the people pushing for anticorruption and for the respect of the rule of law. By virtue of this collective and spontaneous reaction against a government decree, the Romanian protests were cherished as a “beacon of hope” for democracy tout court. This was quite a staggering achievement: Romania was simultaneously portrayed as one of the most corrupt countries in Europe and as a silver lining for the world. It encapsulates the massively contradictory character of the protests that, despite the catchphrases and punch lines of the media, cannot be conveniently reduced to a single narrative or to a clear-cut conflict. I will try to articulate here the complexities of these protests via a metaphor: a cake with three layers and a cherry on top. Can the Romanians have their cake and eat it too?
On 20 December 2014, Romania got its new president: Klaus Iohannis. The processes surrounding this election deserve mention and anthropological scrutiny. Almost exactly twenty-five years after the execution of the Ceausescu couple on Christmas Day 1989, Romania is celebrating a brand new sort of President: a “Santa Klaus.”
In autumn of 2013, Romania witnessed some of the biggest post-1989 protests. From September to early December, tens of thousands of people took to the streets in major cities. People were furious about the government making a deal with a Canadian mining multinational for an opencast mine in Roșia Montana, a small mining town located in the Apuseni Mountains. In the making for almost 16 years, the project had been mired in controversy from the outset (e.g., see Kalb 2006). First, its very existence and the lack of transparency about what the deal included raised suspicions of complicity between local politicians of all stripes and the Canadian mining firm behind the project. Allegations of conflicts of interest, illicit lobbying, and top-level corruption were abundant. Long-term journalist investigations gave credence to many such views, documenting a vast network of business and political interests, both local and global, undergirding the project (Gotiu 2013).