Even as protests continue to take place in Bulgaria regarding rising electricity prices, government corruption, and political thuggery, tensions appear to be rising in neighboring Romania, with thousands of demonstrators taking to the streets in protest of low wages, bad working conditions, and a poor health care system.
The Romanian protesters, largely made up of teachers, marched through the streets of Bucharest on Wednesday, November 13, by the thousands demanding better wages and working conditions as well as “an end to political interference in education.”
The protesters whistled, blew horns, held up banners, and chanted slogans such as “Solidarity!” and “Without education, any nation will die!”
The Romanian protesters, however, appear to have slightly more concrete demands than those of Bulgaria. Romanian activists are calling for an increase in education spending to 6% of GDP, more than double the current 2.5% and greater than the 5% EU average.
Romanian teachers unions are also demanding that teachers and principals be hired on merit, not on political criteria.
Demonstrating the need for the demands for the increased spending on education to be met, it has been pointed out by many activists that teachers in Romania survive on what amounts to a mere pittance when compared to even the weak national average salary. A teacher beginning his career in Romania earns approximately 700 lei ($217) per month. This is less than half of the average national salary.
Yet beginning teachers are not the only ones living on low wages. Even career teachers are barely scraping by. Consider the case of Doru Vladoiu as reported by the Associated Press. The AP writes,
Doru Vladoiu, a 64-year-old high school arts teacher who has been working for 25 years, said he earns just 1,000 lei ($304) a month.
"Without my mother's pension, she's 88, I wouldn't be able to manage on my salary." he told The Associated Press. "Without help you can't make it on your own."Such weak social infrastructure is not isolated to education, however. Health care has also been a source of discontent for many activists in Romania as well, with the recent teachers’ protests coming on the heels of marches by doctors and health workers who marched through Bucharest on Saturday calling for more spending on the health care sector.
In addition, protests in Bucharest and other cities have taken place on a weekly basis over recent months in opposition to a plan that would have allowed a Canadian company, Gabriel Resources, to use cyanide to mine hundreds of tons of gold and silver in Rosia Montana, in the Carpathian mountains in Transylvania. The plan would have included razing four mountains and leaving behind an entire lake of cyanide.
Initially, there was much government support for the mining plan. However, after the protests erupted, government support waned, politicians began distancing themselves from the scheme, and, in November, a special commission set up to assess the plan overwhelmingly rejected it.
The second poorest nation in the EU, Romania has long suffered from IMF-imposed austerity and privatization schemes which were only exacerbated by the world economic depression. Currently, the Romanian government is in the midst of the decision making process as to whether or not to move ahead with more state asset sales, increased taxation, and austerity cuts for the purposes of being approved for yet another IMF loan.
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