Jane Bradley: Beware of the protest bandwagon

Romanian riot police stand guard as people demonstrate against controversial decrees to pardon corrupt politicians. Picture; getty

Romanian riot police stand guard as people demonstrate against controversial decrees to pardon corrupt politicians. Picture; getty

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We have every reason to be upset about Donald Trump, but there is worse going on closer to home says Jane Bradley

At 1am on Wednesday, a European government pushed through a law which would mean people in public office could commit fraud without criminal penalty - as long as the monetary benefit was less than £37,000.

The law was slipped in as an emergency bill without as much as a by-you-leave to a promised referendum to allow the people of the country - who had already voiced their displeasure at the idea - to decide.

Citizens went crazy. They protested, they took to the streets. Literally hundreds of thousands of people have held all-night vigils in the country’s major cities all week.

Opposition politicians protested in parliament, holding up banners which read “Shame!” and “We await the referendum!” above the heads of ministers.

But nothing happened. The government, members of which have actually been convicted of corruption and fraud-related offences, was allowed quietly to let this go by.

Their government’s next planned action is to pardon a selection of white collar criminals, in a bid to “ease overcrowding” in their jails. It’s coincidence, of course, that a number of its politicians are currently in prison, serving sentences for crimes related to corruption.

Read all of this again. Re-read it. Digest it. It is insanity. But it is happening today. In Europe.

If this action was committed by a certain wild-haired president, it would inevitably send the world into a frenzy, millions of people across the globe would take to the streets, as they did this week in protest of Donald Trump’s abhorrent decision to prevent citizens of a group of seven countries from travelling to the US.

But this did not happen in the US. It occurred in Romania, a country less than 2,000 miles away from Scotland - half the distance to America. It, like us - for now - is a member of the European Union, which has debated the issue and has said it is following the developments “with great concern”.

I have a lot of Romanian friends and their Facebook feeds were awash with reports on the protests, first hand accounts of the atmosphere on the streets; photographs.

Outside of Romanian accounts, nothing.

If you think hard, you might have seen something about it on the news in the past few days. It may ring vague bells. You might even have noticed my articles in this very newspaper. I promoted them heavily enough on our Twitter account.

But you weren’t out protesting about it. You weren’t posting “Not our prime minister” memes on a backdrop of the red, gold and blue stripes of the Romanian flag.

This blinkered attitude towards Euopean goings-on affects not just Romania. Similiarly, no-one has noticed the media restriction going on in Hungarysince the end of last year. That there is now not a single newspaper publishing which opposes the Fidesz party-controlled government since the closure of Népszabadság, Hungary’s biggest selling broadsheet newspaper in October.

Meanwhile, the Polish government in Warsaw tried last year to push through a near-total ban on abortion. They eventually backed away after mass protests in the country, but it was touch and go for a while.

But here, however, there was little fuss.

Information about both of these topics was widely available in newspapers and on websites at the time. But few were aware of it. Even fewer tried to do anything about it.

All of this is happening in Europe. Don’t even get me started on things going on elsewhere in the world.

Yet, we are, largely, turning the other cheek, preferring to concentrate our efforts on the razamtazz surrounding the shocking happenings across the Atlantic.

Meanwhile, people in Romania are talking about revolution. My friends are terrified that their country will go back to the way things were before 1989, when they were trapped behind an iron curtain of Communism.

To get out of it last time, after half a century of Communist rule, they had to stage a full-scale coup, which resulted in the dictator, Nicolae Ceusescu, being killed by firing squad on Christmas Day.

In short, this latest incident is quite a big deal, coming after a string of somewhat dubious actions on the part of the social democrat government, which was elected in November.

There was a protest held in Edinburgh. Around 40 people - almost all Romanian citizens - turned up and chanted outside of the Romanian Consulate in St Andrews Square on Wednesday night. There is another event planned for Sunday.

In contrast, more thah 3,000 people - 75 times the number - turned out to march in the Scottish capital to protest against Trump.

I am not criticising those who protested against Trump’s outrageous rulings. I am not saying that the thousands of people who took to the streets in the UK to protest against the Muslim ban should not have done so. It was a kick in the teeth of liberalism and multiculturalism in the western world. It was undoubtedly abhorrent.

But is it really 75 times worse than what the Romanian government has done, what it is doing at this very moment?

Trump, with his well-oiled media machine and somewhat noticable personal style, has managed to 
garner the global attention he was after.

We have all fallen for it. Trump is a personality. He has got under people’s skin, making us all jump up and down wildly, waving our arms, while he sits back from his Oval office desk and laughs, no doubt in an evil baddy kind of a way.

Meanwhile, equally detestable things are going on closer to home. There are detestable things going everywhere. But it is Trump who gets the attention.

We cannot, of course, all protest against all of them. But we need to consider jumping off the bandwagon, and stop protests turning into some kind of must-have fashion.

March against Trump, by all means. But just don’t forget the other causes - they need our support too.

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