Romania's huge protests cause rifts among families, friends

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) " Video editor Mihnea Lupan lives just around the corner from his mother, but their views on the massive anti-corruption protests shaking Romania are miles apart.

Since late January, when tens of thousands first took to the streets to protest a government degree that decriminalized some official misconduct, Lupan and his mother, Valentina, have been at loggerheads. Fights over politics dominate their visits instead of home-cooked meals and pleasantries.

"Don't speak to me like I'm an idiot! You are what you are today, thanks to me," Valentina Lupan, a retired architect, shouted at her 35-year-old son during an emotionally charged two-way that started within minutes of his entering the apartment where his parents and aunt live.

The demonstrations, the largest in Romania since a 1989 revolution led to the execution of the communist leader, have been a nightly occurrence for three consecutive weeks now. During that time, they have exposed a sharp generational divide between citizens who grew up, built careers and started families under communism and those who came of age a decade after the country moved to a free market economy and a multiparty system.

Most of the protesters are on the younger side. Through travel, jobs at foreign companies and the internet, they feel closer to the West than their parents.

They speak languages besides Romanian, and some have worked in countries with higher wages and less pervasive corruption.

When the center-left government issued an emergency ordinance on Jan. 31 to decriminalize abuse in office if it involved less than $48.500, it struck a nerve.

Taking a break from editing a program about fishing, Lupan, a slim, bearded man, said the young must show Romania's politicians "we want change. We want to reach Western standards."

Premier Sorin Grindeanu eventually withdrew the decree, although the government still plans to introduce the measure as a law in Parliament, where Grindeanu's party has a majority.

The center-left government also is popular with older voters. It has promised to raise state pensions, a move that would bring Valentina Lupan an extra 200 lei ($47) a month, a 20 percent increase.

Valentina, 65, is skeptical about the motives of the anti-government protesters, including her son. She thinks they were lured by financial incentives or told to demonstrate by the multinational companies they work for, echoing the news channels she watches.

As a young architect, she crafted wooden and metal doors for the giant palace of President Nicolae Ceausescu, the communist leader executed in 1989, and insists she has never paid a bribe to secure a contract. She says byzantine legislation, not outright deceit, is to blame for official corruption.

"Why weren't they out in the streets to protest against illegal logging on a large scale?," she asks her son during the heated exchange that had her worrying about her blood pressure. "So they didn't protest against (that) or the stray dogs' issue?"

In the quiet of his apartment, Lupan attributed his mother's frustrations to a loss of earnings in recent years.

"Everything was laid out for them ... in communism and immediately after," he said, adding that the news channels she watches have "indoctrinated" his mother.

Despite their differences, Lupan remains convinced that Romania needs to make steady progress toward reform so "my future children will have a chance not to be .... a generation of sacrifice."

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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