The Current

Romanian protesters take down corrupt system, Victor Ponta resigns

The anger that erupted over a deadly nightclub fire spilled onto the streets of Bucharest last week and saw key government leaders resign. It is considered a breaking point in the long-simmering public anger over corruption inside government and its surrounding institutions.
Romania's embattled Prime Minister Victor Ponta resigned following a deadly nightclub blaze, a day after more than 20,000 people rallied in Bucharest to demand he step down. Ponta said it was right that top officials took responsibility for the tragedy at the Colectiv disco in Bucharest on October 30, 2015. (Daniel Mihailescu/AFP/Getty Images)
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I have the obligation to acknowledge that there is legitimate anger in society. They have the legitimate wish to extend the responsibility of the fire beyond the owners of the nightclub. I am ready to be the one to make this gesture that parts of society are waiting for and starting today I am resigning my mandate as Prime Minister.- Victor Ponta, Former Romanian Prime Miister  on protests in Bucharest

The death toll in Bucharest night club fire, was 45... with nearly 200 more injured. And it's estimated that more than 20,000 turned out on the streets of Bucharest last Tuesday night to demand the embattled prime minister Victor Ponta's resignation.

It was one of the largest demonstrations since the 1989 fall of communism in the southeastern European nation. And the anger in Romania, has yet to subside.

The fire has become a burning symbol of corruption and ineptitude throughout the government's ranks. 

Protesters shout slogans calling for early elections and hold banners that read: "Down the Political Mafia" after a rally joined by thousands blocked traffic in University Square in Bucharest, Romania. (AP/Vadim Ghirda)

Over the weekend demonstrations continued on the streets of the capital city Bucharest – though on a smaller scale – with thousands of protesters chanting "Corruption kills" and other calls for change.        

Kit Gillet is a Balkans correspondent who writes for The Guardian and The New York Times. We reached him in Bucharest, Romania. 

Romania joined the European Union in 2007... but only after agreeing to launch serious efforts to fight corruption. Its National Anti-Corruption Directorate -- or DNA, as its known -- has brought charges against politicians, judges and the newly resigned Prime Minister.

But getting to the root causes is still a struggle.

Laura Stefan is a co-founder of the Romanian think-tank Expert Forum, where she is the rule of law and anti-corruption coordinator. She also helped set up Romania's anti-corruption efforts a decade ago while working at the ministry of justice. 

A man holding a candle kneels amid thousands of other candles outside the Colectiv nightclub in Bucharest, Romania, site of a fire that has claimed 45 lives. ( Vadim Ghirda/Associated Press)

Prime Minister Victor Ponta has a history of corruption allegations.  But problems with endemic bribery and fraud in the country stretch back much farther, through several decades -- into the communist era, and even beyond. 

It's an issue that's continued to hamper Romania's full emergence from behind the Iron Curtain.and kept foreign investors at bay. Dennis Deletant is the Visiting Ion Ratiu Professor of Romanian Studies at Georgetown University.


This segment was produced by The Current's Karin Marley and Lara O'Brien.