For most of the 150.000 people that were there, 10 August 2018 marks the day of the gendermerie’s mineriad against peaceful demonstrators.
“Don’t do it! Don’t do it!” “The first thing I did was to check if I still had all my fingers.” “The gendarmes were acting like robots. They were acting completely reckless, as if they were on drugs.” A few violent men shattered the fences, and the gendarme’s reaction was to throw tear gas into the crowd, in the opposite corner to the violent incidents took place, where thousands of people were demonstrating peacefully.
There are the testimonies of five people who were at the diaspora’s protest in Victoria Square, which became a street battle after 20:00 transformed, when with hooligans throwing stones and incendiary bottles on one hand, and protesters lying on the ground, gasping, shouting " We are not leaving! " and gendarmes equipped for war, who were sweeping the streets around the Government, with sticks, tear gas and shields, striking everything that moved. More than 400 protesters and 35 gendarmes were injured, and more than 600 complaints were filed with the General Prosecutor's Office. Ilie Giza, a protester from Teleorman, died a few days after the protest.
Newsweek Romania is reconstructing the events of August 10, through the eyes of five people who participated in the protests: a photo reporter from "Decât O Revistă", a couple who came to express their dissatisfaction with the PSD Government, a Romanian from Italy, that came home especially for the diaspora rally, and a USR lawyer who was collecting signatures for the #noconvictedpeopleinpublicoffice campaign. They were all aggressed by the gendarmes and gassed, some injured or beaten bitterly, for the simple reason that they appeared in the way of the armed forces.
The fight of the gendarmes with the peaceful protesters and aggressive supporters was mainly on Calea Victoriei, Lascăr Catargiu, Iancu de Hunedoara, Ion Mihalache, Nicolae Titulescu and Buzeşti Street. Not even the protesters who were near the Antipa Museum escaped, near "the giraffe", the place where the parents with children and the most peaceful people have traditionally gathered.
"The more tear gas they threw at us, the more people came out to the streets"
It is Friday, 4:20 PM. More than 20,000 people have gathered in Victory Square at the diaspora protest.
Silvia Dumitrache, an activist and a newly enlisted in the Liberal’s Party Diaspora, came from Italy, where she has been living for the past 15 years, just to join the protest. Special troops had just rejected a group of protesters who were trying to enter the government yard.
"I felt the first tear gas at 4:20 PM. I was in the square and I felt that I could not breathe. Then they threw grenades that made some sounds. If their purpose was to scare us, and to provoke a violent protest, they did not succeed. The world came in large numbers, and the more they tear gas they threw, the more people came out of the house, "says Silvia Dumitrache, with a strange voice. The gendarmes regularly threw tear gas into the peaceful crowds.
People began shouting even harder "The Gendarmerie defends thievery/thieves!". USR legal expert, Vlad Gheorghe, 33, got ready to go to the protest with his entire family: the wife, the nine-month-old child and the in-laws. They also were prepared with white t-shirts, in front inscribed with the message "Romanians united against corruption" and on the back with "Centenary/ centennial #farapenali (#nocriminals )". They seem to be good messages to show their solidarity with the Diaspora. At 18.00, they arrived in Victoriei Square and in the first 10 minutes they felt the first tear gas. "That's how it all started," says Vlad Gheorghe, who, in four hours, will be beaten twice by the gendarmes, and the images captured on the cameras will circulate all over the Internet.
28 years old Ema Ene, PR Manager, and 38 years old Alex Stere, graphic designer, have been participating in protests since 2012. That evening, they set their meeting point at Victory Square at 7:30 PM.
"They allowed us to gather. I wanted to see what was happening in front, because from the square, the sensation was that a group of football fanatics/hooligans is throwing firecrackers towards the gendarmes, to provoke them, but when I got to the front, I’ve discovered there was no one who’d started the provoking. On the right side, as you look at the Government building, there were 20-30 people whom one/the gendarmerie could have isolated, "says Ema.
Alex adds, "One could have seen that I was different than the other protesters, they were naked, with bandanas and t-shirts tight around their waist. My feeling is that it was a small group of people, maybe infiltrated, some of them really fit / with well built muscles. They were shaking the fences and the gendarmes were gassing exactly in the opposite corner."
"Run away, things are serious!"
Around 7 PM, a few violent people threw crowd control barriers at the gendarmes, who retorted by using tear gas and a water cannon. As time passed, the use of tear gas became more and more frequent. After 8:30 PM, tear gas attacks from the gendarmes would happen once every fifteen minutes. Protesters covered their faces with pieces of clothing, while chanting and swearing profusely against the PSD regime. They dropped to the ground coughing, their eyes blood red. But they did not retreat.
Alex and Ema recall the huge queue in front of the nearby pharmacy: protesters purchasing breathing masks. On the streets surrounding the square, people were running like crazy to the ambulances. Those who couldn’t walk were carried by other protesters. Some were hit by pieces of plastic in the gas grenades, others by rubber bullets. Flares were lighting up the sky above the square.
By 21:30, tear gas attacks become even more frequent. Each time, the gendarmes attack and make their way into the square, protesters withdraw and then return. Ema and Alex were on Victoria Street when they saw the gendarmes using tear gas on "some teenagers". They fleed the gendarmes towards Ema and Alex, shouting "Run away, things are serious!"
The two moved on to Lascar Catargiu boulevard, looking to retreat to a more quiet area. Then they saw more gendarmes on the street. "I hid behind a pillar of the Orange building. I did not understand why the gendarmes were trying to push us out of the square. In the first rows, near the Government building, there were a few hooligans throwing stones, bottles and wet t-shirts. I was positioned between the agitators and the gendarmes. A gendarme broke off from his group, grabbed my dress and pushed me. He said, "You are not allowed to be here!". I was filming, I thought something was going to happen and video evidence would be needed. They were constantly using tear gas. The gendarmes were vulgar, they acted like beasts. They were saying: "Head to Romana Square! We have to push you to Romana Square!", Ema remembers.
Because they did not want to leave, Ema, Alex and a few other protesters were pushed to Grigore Alexandrescu Street, behind the Orange building. On both ends of the street there were gendarmes. "I was so outraged that I never thought something could happen to me. Now I'm getting shivers thinking of those moments", says Ema, who was hurt after being exposed to several gas grenade blasts. She went to the gendarmes asking them to allow her passage to an ambulance. After a long argument which lasted several minutes and was captured on video, the gendarmes let them pass, but then hit Ema’s head with their batons.
“I was shouting: Don’t hit me! Don’t hit me! It was shocking”
At 9 PM, the 1,000 peaceful protesters gathered at the Antipa Museum were confronted by six gendarmes riding on their horses, dressed in combat gear. People surrounded them and began to chant. Vlad Gheorghe and #farapenali volunteers built a human wall to protect the gendarmes and the horses. Then they all had to flee, because of the incoming tear gas and the wave of people in the square who were running away from the gendarmes. At 10:30 PM, Vlad Gheorghe, the USR lawyer, headed toward his car, planning to place in the trunk some materials from the #farapenali campaign.
"That was my mistake. I reached Titulescu street, then heard loud noises behind me. I found myself between a group of gendarmes and a group of hooligans armed with stones and bottles, looking to pick a fight. And the fight began. Then the tear gas hit me and brought me to my knees". Vlad fled towards the square, where he saw two protesters waving large Romanian flags. He headed for them, hoping he would be safe. He stood there for half an hour with his hands raised, to show his lack of hostility. But as soon as the on-site news team left, the gendarmes attacked.
Vlad Gheorghe, attacked by a gendarme
"They started with batons directly. I have bruises from my shoulders to the hip, they were found by doctors at the hospital. I do not even know who hit me, I only saw their shields, and then the batons. I was shouting: Don’t hit me! Don’t hit me! It was shocking”.
Shortly after the attack, another gendarme split from his group and headed for Vlad. "It was my self-preservation instinct that saved me. I curled into a ball before he came. He wanted to hit my head. If I did hadn’t defended myself, the news about me would have been much worse". The lawyer filed a complaint that night.
"I hope I still have all my fingers"
At 23.00, two gendarmes get caught in a melee in the parking lot of Victoria Square, and they are attacked by violent men. Peaceful protesters make a wall around the gendarmes and save them. Photo reporter Cătălin Georgescu, a collaborator at DOR, follows the gendarmes as they pass through the crowd.
"I was near Starbucks and BRD and I saw many people running. There were very few remaining now in the square, because of the constant tear gas and water cannon attacks. Then I started to hear explosions near me. I turned around to leave and something exploded near me and I felt it hitting my right arm. My hand went numb and my first thought was: "I hope I still have all my fingers", says the photo reporter, who labels that Friday night as "surreal".
"We were too unimportant"
Silvia Dumitrache says she has never seen such hatred in her 60 years of life, not even during the Revolution of December 1989. She says the gendarmes were acting "like robots, as if they were drugged".
"I was crying on the street, I went to some young gendarmes and shouted at them: "You should be ashamed! Did your mother see what you're doing here?" The following day, Silvia Dumitrache was unable to see with her right eye and suffered from headaches.
Photo reporter Cătălin Georgescu came away from that night with the impression that everything was provoked. Lawyer Vlad Gheorghe says that people must be held accountable for the abuses, especially since, on official channels, gendarmes were wrongly informed that a colleague of them was almost killed by protesters.
Ema and Alex think that people were provoked into becoming angry. After midnight, when they returned to the square, there were too few protesters. "We were too unimportant". The gendarmes left them alone.
Journalists, gassed and hit by gendarmes
Most journalists present at the protests were gassed or hit by the gendarmes. Among them, Austrian camera operator Robert Reinprecht, and Romanian journalists Robert Mihăilescu (Hotnews), Cristian Iohan Ştefănescu (DW Romania), Silviu Matei (Agerpres), Nora Dincă (Realitatea TV), Vlad Ursulean (Casa Jurnalistului), Cristi Popa and Cristi Ban (Digi24), Adina Florea (Vice), photojournalists Ioana Moldovan (Documentaria) and Cătălin Georgescu (DOR).
*The Mineriad took place in 1990 when the Romanian miners of Jiu Valley were called by the newly elected power to Bucharest to end the riots that broke up on 13 June 1990. As President Ion Iliescu put it, the miners were called to save the "besieged democratic regime" and restore order and democracy in Bucharest. The government trucked in thousands of miners from the Jiu Valley to Bucharest to confront the demonstrators. The rest of Romania and the world watched the government television broadcasts of miners brutally grappling with students and other protesters.
This article was translated into English by Diana Stoica.
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