Back at the beginning of January, there was no sign of the political drama to come; Emil Boc and his Democratic Liberal Party (PDL) colleagues were in government and all was sweetness and light between president and PM. But all that was to change; just a week and a half into the New Year Dr Raed Arafat’s stand against what he considered an attack on the health service started a chain reaction that would define the political scene in 2012.
The year started with a mention for Romania in Queen Elizabeth II’s New Year’s honors list; Romanian born CEO of Canary Wharf in London Gerorge Iacobescu was knighted and became only the second Romanian to receive the honor.
There was also good news for Romanians working in Italy at the start of January when the country lifted work restrictions. The UK, the Netherlands and Ireland are due to lift work restrictions on Romanians in 2013 with the expiration of the EU accession transitional controls.
On January 10 the seed was sown for the seismic political changes of 2012: then under secretary of health Raed Arafat resigned after an argument with the president Traian Basescu. The popular Palestinian born doctor founded Romania’s mobile emergency service (SMURD) and on resigning in protest he said “I have the obligation to warn, and not to shut up, not to stand still, hoping that this will be negotiated. This is not the first time an attempt to commercialize the emergency system has been made.” His words proved to be political dynamite and his resignation provoked the public protests that brought down the government and got the part-privatization of the emergency ambulance services stopped.
In the following week, protests started across Romania and although in the main peaceful there were some clashes with the police. The then opposition Social Liberal Union (USL) was quick to align itself with protestors as the health sector reforms on top of wider discontent over austerity measures bubbled over into street demonstrations.
Emil Boc’s government managed to hold on until the end of January, but its days were numbered.
The extreme cold weather also arrived in January, after an unusually warm start to the year. In the end, the cold weather claimed hundreds of lives across Eastern Europe and Romania experienced its hardest winter in more than 50 years.
Right at the end of the month, former PM Adrian Nastase was sentenced to two years in prison for corruption, it was the biggest fish yet for the anti-corruption directorate and the trial took three years and involved hundreds of witnesses. There was still drama to come, after Nastase had exhausted all appeal options he didn’t exactly go quietly.. but more of that later in the year.