Are democracy, freedom of speech, and religious freedom threatened in Romania?

February 15, 2018

  Roxana Stanciu

Through a Citizens’ Initiative, over three million people in Romania expressed their desire to hold a referendum on marriage. EDW focused attention on these efforts in October 2017.

The Citizens’ Initiative saw the strongest support ever expressed for any such initiative in the modern history of Romania — it was the first time that a Citizens’ Initiative had been used in the country since the fall of Communism in 1989. But despite this effort and different ‘calls for action’ by politicians, the organisation of the referendum continues to be repeatedly postponed without explanation. 

Three million citizens want to have a referendum on amending the country’s Constitution so that it recognizes marriage solely as the lifelong union between one man and one woman. According to a poll by the Romanian Centre of Urban and Regional, more than 90% of Romanians see family as being the union between one man and one woman.

But their will is being ignored by authorities — which raises serious concerns about democracy and healthy democratic processes in Romania. 


Absolutely no impediment for the organisation of the referendum at this moment

Despite the popular support, there has been no progress on the organization and planning of the Citizens’ Initiative since May 2017. According to Ana Corina Săcrieru, a Romanian lawyer, “At this moment there is absolutely no impediment for the organisation of the referendum that 3 million Romanians have asked for,” she said. “The Referendum is, according to Art. 2 in the Romanian Constitution, the form of manifestation of the sovereignty of the Romanian people, while also being the way of directly consulting the Romanian people.”

In one of the events organized in Romania at the end of 2017, Mihai Gheorghiu, the president of the Coalition for Family stated: “If three million people can disappear from […] public attention as if they had never existed, you can imagine how ‘deep’ […] Romanian democracy is, and how ‘far’ we have walked on the road for freedom.” Gheorghiu also sent a clear warning about growing restrictions on freedom of speech on traditional family topics: “We are not allowed neither to be free, nor to have a referendum, nor to talk about these issues because we are considered to be religious fanatics,” he said. “And slowly, we will not be allowed to do much.”


Limitations of religious freedom and freedom of speech?

It is interesting to see how Mihai Gheorghiu’s words are becoming reality. On 8 February 2018, the Romanian National Council for Combatting Discrimination made public a project and partnership with ‘Accept’, an NGO that pushes the LGBTI agenda in Romania.

The project is financed with EU funds and aims at actively promoting the LGBTI agenda in the areas of justice, health, education, and social care. One of its key goals is to fight against what it calls “the abusive usage of religious freedom that generates intolerance against minorities and that limits human rights, including the rights of LGBTI persons.”

But we are left with several questions:  How will this ambiguously formulated “abusive usage of religious freedom” be quantified and evaluated? And according to whose standards? In this context, a mere opinion on marriage of a religious person might be considered “abusive”, and any criticism might be considered “discriminatory”. There are serious reasons to be concerned that religious freedom and freedom of speech — the fundamental freedoms of a democratic society — could be restricted.

Anghel Buturugă, an editor for Active News, stated that Accept and the Romanian National Council for Combatting Discrimination, “want to actually limit religious freedom. How can the fight against abusive usage of religious freedom that generates intolerance against minorities be interpreted, other than in this way? [….] According to this, I will lose my civic right, if I, a Romanian citizen with religious views, want to go against homosexual marriage. This also means that the Coalition for Family will be declared illegal”.

A cery important fact is that according to the Human Freedom Index of 2017, Romania has a maximum score in personal freedom with regards to same-sex relationships. The Human Freedom Index presents the state of human freedom in the world. It is based on a broad measure that encompasses personal, civil, and economic freedom. In accordance with this internationally accepted scale, freedom for people that are in same-sex relationships is at its maximum level in Romania. This understanding makes us question the real need of a project that fights against the intolerance of LGBTI persons.


Raising awareness on the topic

At European Dignity Watch we are running a campaign aimed at raising awareness about the unjustified delays that have been used to slow or stop the referendum on marriage in Romania. It represents a very serious concern for democracy in Europe. Meanwhile, the EU is analyzing the rule of law in Romania and has expressed concerns about the country’s “overhaul of the judiciary”. But with more than three million people who gave their consent to hold such a referendum, a cause they firmly believe in, the efforts of those who oppose it can only be seen as undemocratic. It is something we should be aware of for the sake of Europe.

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We have produced a series of videos about the situation. Watch four of them here: