Interview on the changes after the Caracal case, what does the Romanian feminist scene look like and what is the state of Romanian media
Adina Marincea is a researcher in social sciences with a doctorate in communication sciences (2014). She has more than 5 years of experience with national and European research projects within the independent think tank Median Research Centre (MRC) and has published articles on the platform for political analysis and debates Open Politics. Her fields of interest are: mass-media and social media, political communication, natural language processing, artificial intelligence, hate-speech, Europeanisation, populism and radicalisation on the level of discourse.
Adina, you have specialised in the domain of mass media. How do you feel about the development of your country in this domain in recent years?
If we see the latest reports from Media Pluralism Monitor and ActiveWatch-FreeEx, the general tendences show that in the best case there is stagnation, while some essential aspects, which deal with liberty of expression, labour conditions in the journalism profession, security and protection of journalists have deteriorated both in Romania and in the rest of Europe. In the case of Romania, some problems have remained unresolved for quite a long time. Some examples could be the precarious labour conditions in the journalism profession, the lack of strong labour union representation for journalists in private media institutions, whistleblowers not having adequate protection, the cases of threats (e.g. against Emilia Şercan) and physical aggression against journalists (especially in the case of the anti-government protests from 10 August 2018) and attempts by the authorities to limit criticism and the use of intimidation, including in the online space and social media.
These conditions together with many other systemic problems lower the editorial autonomy of journalists and their capacity to do their job. There is always political and commercial pressure on journalists. The GDPR was used by authorities to put pressure on the RISE Project to reveal its sources from the Teleorman Leaks investigation, which deals with Liviu Dragnea (the former leader of the Social Democratic Party, who was sentenced to 3 1/2 years of imprisonment after the European elections in May 2019 – note of the translator). The gendarmerie sent fines for participation and organisation of protests, basing its conclusions on who seemed to be the organisers of the Facebook events. There are also major problems with the public TV and radio, which limit the editorial liberty of journalists and leads to serious abuses of power, as we saw with the published recording by Dragoş Pătraru. All these things lead to a lower quality of press, which feeds people’s distrust and suspicion and leads to reciprocal accusations between the various political lobbies of “fake news”. It is a concept used by all the camps, which leads to the strengthening of political polarisation.
In November, the presidential elections will take place. What is the cause, policy or problem, which could motivate you to vote, because you think that something must be changed in the respective domain?
What interests me not only in the presidential elections, but in the medium and long-term outlook are social policies, which can provide decent conditions of labour and salaries, allow for a decent life and take into account the real costs of living, not only the minimal consumption basket. This basket basically means that you only have bread and butter on your menu and you are buried in debt. I am interested in housing policies, in the construction of public housing as the law stipulates, in measures which protect from the excesses and abuses of the real estate market. This market makes it ever more difficult to live in decent conditions in large cities such as Bucharest and Cluj Napoca, where rents keep on rising.
Among other things that matter to me are the subvention and improvement of public transportation infrastructure and healthcare. I will also include here protection for victims of domestic violence, which should not only limited to punitive measures like stricter punishment, but also should deal with refuge for victims. I also want to see care for other essential public services, especially for the most vulnerable members of society (such as the fight against the ghetto-isation of Romas and against their segregation within schools). There must be an introduction of reproductive health and gender equality education programs in schools that are based on consultations with experts and reputable organisations and, an increase in funding for education and health, so that these are accessible, quality public services.
Last but not least, I think that it is important that the environment be a priority in the political agenda. Measures must be taken towards energy sustainability, which deal with the negative environmental impact . Even though Romania is not among the main polluters or among the main decision-makers on climate change issues, it is important that we have a vision on the issues of the air, water, soil, and food we consume. We must not exploit natural resources at any price.
Romania and the world were shaken by the Caracal casel: The abduction and murder of two girls from this poor zone of Romania. This crime was followed by hard public discussions and protests organized by the feminists in Romania, who have placed the blame on the patriarchy. What social change did the Caracal case produce and what are the reactions of Romanians more than a month (the interview was made in September, while the Carcal crime took place at the end of July 2019 – note of the translator) after the death of Alexandra Măceşanu? What role do Romanian feminists play in the fight to avoid the repetition of such events in the future?
I think that a month is too short a time to evaluate or expect significant social changes. There are a few things which deserve to be mentioned. On one hand, I think that feminists have managed to put in the public agenda in this unpleasant context, the topic of gender violence, which they have been dealing with for years. They have pointed out how this violence is perpetuated by various institutions (from the police to the 112 emergency phone line to the press). The way the authorities reacted, their declarations, the declarations of the perpetrator, the comments of many on social networks who blamed the victims, have become much more visible. This happened also because of the protests “If one falls, we all fall!” before the internal ministry, through which feminists have tried to prevent anti-corruption being the main lens through which the crime is interpreted. Instead, they have denounced the patriarchy as the cause of these systemic problems, which fuels the violence against women. Feminists have tried to avoid the simplification of this crime to a case of corruption, or its exceptionalisation as an extreme and isolated case. Instead, they proposed an explanative matrix, which takes into account the systemic factors that create and sustain the vicious circle of violence: from the gender stereotypes fed through the press, culture, and education; to the vulnerability and precarity generated by poverty; the lack of adequate public transportation infrastructure in the rural zones, rape culture, the authorities’ sexism, etc.
A change has taken place, but not exactly a positive one. It looks like the appetite for punishment has grown. The feminist movement has positioned itself against punishment as the sole solution. Social networks have been abundant with calls for chemical castration of rapists. Viorică Dăncilă has fought for an increase in punishments for rape and pedophilia, and even launched the idea for a referendum on this topic. Ana Birchall, the minister of justice, has initiated the procedure for an emergency decree to modify the legal code. She proposes an increase in punishment for violent crimes and strengthening of conditions for conditional release from prison. Again, the government of Dăncilă issued an emergency decree in September, which increased surveillance and obliges that the sell of prepaid cards be made on the basis of an identity card or other identity data. This happens in the moment when the human rights organisation APADOR-CH revealed that the European Court of Justice issued a verdict which obliges the authorities to track the location of phone calls to 112, even by phones without a SIM card, or risk sanctions. Romania is among the few states which block access to 112 for phones without a SIM card. Authorities tried to pass these rules on SIM card selling back in 2014, but they were declared unconstitutional. In the context of the murder in Caracal, there were even journalists from major newspapers who supported the measure, showing that they were not so worried by “some people’s fear that they will be listened in on.”
Unfortunately, the reactions after the tragedy have mostly focused on increasing punishment and control. There are no preventative measures which will address the systemic causes identified in the manifest “If one falls, we all fall!” I would say that the role of the feminist movement is to continue to fight so that it brings to the public’s attention its demands and, as much as possible, to challenge the decision-makers to advance these demands in the form of legislative proposals and concrete measures.
Romanian politics often creates the impression of a men’s sport, because a lot of the people in the top positions are men. How are we to understand the role played by the prime minister Viorică Dăncilă in this sense? What does her ascension mean – is this a feminisation of politics, the discrediting of the idea of gender equality or simply a continuation of what was until now?
If we look through the lens of liberal feminism, we can see the ascension of Viorică Dăncilă as a feminist success, just as Hillary Clinton’s ascension was. But I identify myself with the “Feminism of the 99%”, an intersectional feminism, for which Dăncilă and Clinton represent only a continuation of the patriarchal and abusive political system which is based on exploitation. It creates hierarchies and privileges only for the few at the top of the pyramid. It leaves behind and ignores the needs and problems of poor women, of Roma women, those with different gender identities and different sexual orientations. As long as there is no solidarity with these groups, no advocacy for their needs or addressing of the economic and social causes which lead to inequalities, politics will remain fixed in the patriarchal matrix. This will happen even if the number of women representatives increases. In a recent interview, Oana Uiorean explains in detail how in fact some of the women at the top reproduce the interests of these structures, so that those 1% will destroy the glass ceiling for themselves and the rest will remain out.
Could you paint a picture of the feminist movement in Romania? What are the main organisations, activities and successes of this movement? In what way is this movement a part of the international current of feminism?
I think that the feminist movement in Romania has developed a lot in the last 10 years and reached a level of maturity which allows different groups to cooperate constructively, even if there are ideological differences between them. After the fall of communism there was liberal feminism, which is present today too. In the last 5-10 years criticism against liberal feminism has strengthened. The diversity of feminist groups and their activities has increased. Now we speak more about intersectional feminism, Roma feminism, anarcho-feminism, queer feminism. They often work together, united by left values. The feminist organisations and informal groups are many and limited to the big cities. Each of them has its specifics. Among the NGOs, the most visible are the Filia Center, the Front Association, the Transcena Association, the Partnership for Equality Center (CPE), The Association of Women Against Violence (Artemis), the Association Anais and others, which are involved in the Romanian Network for Prevention and Combating Violence Against Women (VIF) and which organise the annual march “Together for Women’s Safety”, which will take place this year on 19 October.
Although less visible, the work made by Roma feminist organisations is important. These are E-Romnja – Association for the Promotion of the Rights of Roma Women, which manages project with women from different communities in Romania and is part of the network VIF, or Giuvlipen – a company for feminist Roma theatre. The category of anticapitalist radical and queer feminism contains: Dysnomia – an informal group, which started as circle for feminist lectures, and has published two issues of the magazine Dysnomia; the pop radical magazine CUTRA – which will soon launch its second issue, and has a website, where articles from an intersectional perspective are published. I will also add here Corp. – a feminist collective of electronic music musicians and DJs, which has opened an inclusive space in Bucharest and follows the visibility of the artists on the local scene.
Other associations and collectives have recently appeared. These are Girl Up (an organisation formed by adolescents, which is part of the “If One Falls, We All Fall”), and Vagenta. In the cultural arena, there are the famous Sofia Nădejde prizes for literature written by women, which is a feminist attempt to overcome the prejudices against women writers and poets. Medeea Iancu is one of the openly feminist poets, who has written a lot on this topic and puts texts at the disposal of various initiatives, such as the protest “If One Falls, We All Fall!”.
In Cluj Napoca and Timişoara there are also informal feminist groups, which make circles for lecture and publish feminist fanzines (Zine Fem is in its second issue). In Timişoara there is a group called h.arta, which has been active since 2001, and this year it organised a meeting (FEMINISME) with representatives from the above mentioned organizations.
I need to mention also the website and the Facebook page Feminism România, which has contributed over the years to the visibility of the movement. Also, there are many spaces, groups, and organisations with different profiles, which identify as feminist or are allied to the movement (such as the former Macaz Bar, MozaiQ, A-casă Cluj, Free Pages Publishing House, the Housing Block, etc.).
The majority of these organisations have an intersectional character. They are part of the anti-racist fight, for protection of the rights of LGBTQ+ people, they have solidarity with sex workers (SWC), they participate in the movement for the right to housing, for the acceptance of neurodiversity (Mad Pride), etc. As have seen many times, including through the feminist protests organised on the occasion of 8 March and within the movement ”If One Falls, We All Fall”, the Romanian feminist movement is connected to various international feminist organisations and has ideological solidarity with them. Some examples are Ni una menos/Nu una di meno, Feminism of the 99%, International Women’s Strike on 8 March, #SayHerName and the Afro-American women’s movements.
Photo: Adina Marincea (source: Vali Iovi-Stere)
Vladimir Mitev is a Bulgarian-Romanian journalist based in Rousse, a town on the very border between the two countries. He is the editor-in-chief of the Romanian website BARICADA Romania, which initially started as a Romanian language version of the Bulgarian portal by the same name. He focuses on international politics. He has worked for the Bulgarian weekly “Tema” until its closure in 2015. He founded the bilingual Romanian-Bulgarian blog ”The Bridge of Friendship”. His articles and translations have been published by the BGNES agency, the magazines of A-specto and Economy, the blog of ”Solidary Bulgaria” and others. He has published also in the Romanian magazines of Decât o Revista și Q Magazine, in the Romanian cultural magazines of Vatra and Poesis, and in the Romanian left-wing portal Critic Atac.