Bucharest nightclub fire: PM resigns in wake of protests

Article published on Nov. 10, 2015
Article published on Nov. 10, 2015

On the 3rd of November, thousands of people held a protest following the tragic fire which started at a Bucharest club, killing 32 people and injuring more than a hundred others. Following the demonstration, the Prime Minister, Victor Ponta, announced his resignation.

It was one of the biggest rallies held in Romania since 1990: between 20,000 and 30,000 people marched through the streets to the main government building in Bucharest chanting "Assassins!" and demanding the resignation of the Prime Minister Victor Ponta, the Deputy Prime Minister Gabriel Oprea, and the mayor of "Sector 4" of the Romanian capital, Cristian Popescu Piedone.

The demonstration came in the wake of the fire at the Colectiv Club last Friday, which killed more than 30 people attending a concert of the metal band Goodbye to Gravity. A wave of emotion and anger has swept over Romania, denouncing the corruption which has paralysed the country.

Tense situation

In one of their tunes played on the night of the fire, the band Goodbye to Gravity cried: "We’re not numbers we’re free, we’re so alive / 'cause the day we give in is the day we die […]F*** all your wicked corruption."

It was a kind of premonition, as well as a manifesto, that revealed the political and social tensions in the country. As it happens, the fire at the Colectiv Club was the last straw in a series of events that have shaken Romania over the past few months. The Romanians had already taken to the streets after the surprise election of Klaus Iohannis as President in November 2014, also demanding the resignation of his then opponent, Prime Minister Victor Ponta.

This summer, the same prime minister was charged with corruption, complicity in tax fraud and money laundering, which he allegedly committed between 2007 and 2011 when he was a lawyer. Other political figures have been sent to prison in the last few years, once more stoking the Romanians' anger and suspicion towards their leaders.

Deadly negligence

The fire at the Colectiv Club came after another tragic event: the death, on the 20th of October, of a police officer on duty, Bogdan Gigina. He crashed his motorbike into a hole in the road while escorting the car of the Deputy Prime Minister Gabriel Oprea.  No warning sign had been placed. Hundreds of people demonstrated to demand the resignation of Oprea, who had allegedly abused the motorbike escort for nonprofessional reasons on dangerous and traffic-jammed roads. Even President Klaus Iohannis advised Oprea to resign but the latter refused. 

For the Romanians, all these people died because of negligence and a paralysed system. The fire at the Colectiv Club was caused by its owners' failure to observe regulations, but also by the inattention of the local authorities represented by Mayor Cristian Popescu Piedone. While millions of lei are being spent on infrastructure, the roads remain in a bad state, buildings are not properly checked, the health system is on its knees and the city lacks hospitals.

On his Facebook page, Klaus Iohannis has called on politicians to react as they cannot "ignore the feeling of revolt". The people's cry has toppled the government. Much still remains to be done.