Mihnea Teodor Popescu
The last months have brought a significant decline in the living standards of the masses in Romania (as well as all across Europe of course), especially in the context of the recent energy crisis and the consequent price hikes. The policy of local authorities, which is to ignore the needs of the tenants and to forcefully evict people even during winter, along with skyrocketing rent prices and energy bills, have forced people to take to the streets in Bucharest and Cluj-Napoca. People are demanding, among other things, the effective capping of rent and energy prices and an immediate stop to forced evictions, targeting mainly the Roma population.
On Saturday, December 17, the initiative group Social Housing NOW organized a march in Cluj-Napoca on the occasion of the 12 year anniversary since the criminal and brutal eviction of 350 Roma people from their homes by the municipality, followed by their forced resettlement near the landfill of Pata Rât. Under the slogan “We take it to the streets before they kick us out”, the marchers celebrated the continuous resistance of the evicted people and protested against evictions, price hikes and housing inaccessibility.
The demonstration wasn’t an isolated event. Less than a month ago, on November 24, the March of Discontent took place in Cluj-Napoca as a common effort of Social Housing NOW and other initiative groups such as Gastivists, Fridays for Future and Militant Student Union. Socialist Action Group (GAS) took part in this action and highlighted the necessity for the construction of a political alternative to the exploitative system that refuses to listen to our demands. The march picketed the City Hall, articulating a clear message against the capitalist system and those who benefit from it, the local authorities and energy corporations. A series of demands were put forward:
- Housing and utility prices to be capped at 20% of tenants’ incomes;
- Wages and pensions should increase according to the costs of living;
- The actual reduction and effective capping of energy, food and housing prices;
- Utility subsidies must apply for everyone earning less than the average income;
- An increase in the number social houses according to the real needs;
- Rent regulation.
A few weeks ago, on November 12, the tenants in Bucharest also participated in the March for Housing, an initiative of the Common Front for Housing Rights and the E-Romnja Roma association. During the action people shared their traumatizing experiences of fighting for access to social housing, a fight in which they have endured dehumanizing bureaucracy, contempt and racism. Radical slogans were chanted, demanding the abolition of the housing market, from which a minuscule layer of rich people benefits – the new so-called rentier layer – and from which the majority suffers. The demands were:
- Capping of energy and rent prices;
- Ending all evictions;
- Adequate rehousing of already evicted people;
- Increase in the number of public houses;
- Easy access to social housing by simplifying bureaucratic procedures and training staff to help people file documents, instead of humiliating them;
- The completion of the social housing apartment blocks in Ghencea area;
- The municipalities should use the funds from the Ministry of Development for public and social housing.
Locuirea e problema noastră, a tuturor, ca locuitori ai acestui oraș din ce în ce mai mare și mai dezvoltat, din ce în ce mai bogat, dar a cărui bogăție nu se răsfrânge și asupra condițiilor și posibilităților noastre de locuire decentă și demnă. Iată câteva momente filmate de Irina Ionescu la Marșul pentru Locuire de anul acesta, din 12 noiembrie. Mulțumim E-Romnja și Blocul pentru Locuire pentru complicitate și tuturor celor care ne-au fost alături. Lupta pentru locuire și condiții de trai decente continuă cu Protestul TOTUL E PREA SCUMP! anunțat joi, pe 24 noiembrie, de tovarășele noastre din Cluj Căși sociale ACUM / Social housing NOW . link eveniment: https://www.facebook.com/events/882542579791760Δημοσιεύτηκε από Frontul Comun pentru Dreptul la Locuire στις Δευτέρα, 21 Νοεμβρίου 2022
More protests and strikes took place during the same period, including a strike action by the ambulance personnel, a sign of the increasing refusal of parts the workers to accept the deteriorating living standards for the profit of the capitalist class anymore.
The Crisis, a Business Opportunity
As the majority of the population is being pushed into poverty and into an unstable future, the economic and energy crises are offering some advantages to the landlords, real estate developers, banks and energy companies.
A report from the Blitz real estate analysts shows that the price of rent in Cluj-Napoca has increased by an average of 7% in October, and increases as high as 23,5% are being observed in some neighborhoods. The selling prices also reported a small increase. Other cities, such as Bucharest and Brasov, also registered housing price increases.
Meanwhile, the energy companies have reported record profits in comparison to the previous year, even though the figures actually show a decline in their productive output. For example, the fossil fuel and energy price hikes have allowed the energy giant Petrom, controlled by the Austrian corporation OMV, to increase its profit fivefold in just nine months.
Banks have also profited from the crisis by increasing interest rates. In the third trimester of 2022, the ROBOR (Romanian Interbank Offer Rate) index has hit an astounding 8%, securing profits as high as 7.6 billion RON for the banking sector in just nine months.
These figures reflect the reality of the capitalist system. In times of crisis, the population is suffering the loss, while the banks and corporations are counting their profits.
The State, an Accomplice in Impoverishment
The decision of the authorities to allow energy market liberalization, as well as their refusal to cap food, rent and real estate prices have allowed the corporations, the banks and the real estate moguls to spectacularly increase their profit, at the cost of an increasingly large part of the Romanian working class being pushed into poverty. Employees, students, pensioners and even children, were all left vulnerable in the face of the crises and the skyrocketing prices. These state policies are not accidental. They demonstrate that the capitalist authorities do not act in the interest of the people, but in the interest of private profiteers.
The partial and ineffective compensation and capping of energy and gas prices that the government has introduced, does not solve any problem. Actually, it leaves out the most vulnerable consumers because of the bureaucratic hassle. The capping is just partial and limited to an very small amount of energy: if a consumer uses more than 300 kWh per month – a very probable scenario during the winter – then the capping no longer applies and they will have to pay their bill in full.
The capping law is constantly being modified because of its errors and ambiguities—whether they are accidental or even intentional. The last version of the law is seriously striking at the interests of tenants, according to an analysis presented at Euronews Romania on December 15.
The capping measures automatically apply at the first demand facility, which is the address of residence. A lot of tenants couldn’t register their rental residences, as most landlords do not report their leases in order to avoid paying taxes. In these conditions, it is not possible for the tenants to benefit from the price capping without having to declare their address even if the landlord disagrees. But in that case they are risking eviction, which is the most probable scenario, since this change would cost the landlords some tax money and strip them of their power to discretionarily evict the tenants under various pretexts, as it commonly happens. The same problem affects everyone who is not the legal owner of their home. Other vulnerable families with multiple demand facilities, including single parent families, families with many children or people who depend on medical devices have to register a written capping request- a relatively difficult bureaucratic procedure which delays the capping by one month.
For years, the local authorities of Cluj-Napoca have been refusing to intervene in any way to stop rising prices of rents, as more and more pieces of land are taken over by the real estate companies who cut deals with the municipality. Their priority is rather to attract the so-called investors into what is supposed to be a Romanian Silicon Valley, than to ensure decent living standards for the people in the gentrified part of the city.
An eloquent example is the real estate project Transylvania Smart City, which seeks to build a residential area near the ghetto of Pata Rât, where 1,500 Roma people who were forcefully evicted by the municipality currently live. This project will practically form a gated community in the middle of an impoverished one which is intentionally being excluded and marginalized by the authorities.
In these conditions, more and more people are facing an increasingly difficult livelihood in the cities of Romania and some of them are even risking not being able to afford housing anymore.
Forced Evictions, a Daily Reality
The brutal and abusive eviction of the 350 Roma people in Cluj-Napoca 12 years ago was not an isolated incident. The Romanian authorities are constantly kicking people out in the streets, sometimes even during winter, under all sorts of pretexts. Police brutality is common and cops often try to incite reactions from the people being evicted. The Roma population is intentionally targeted by these policies, which often take the form of a sort of ethnic or racial “cleansing” being rolled out in the cities to push them to the periphery.
Roma people are often completely denied access to any sort of social housing after the eviction, or are resettled in environmental and sanitary hazard areas. The Pata Rât landfill in Cluj-Napoca is the most commonly known case, but it is not the only one. In the city of Baia Mare, the Roma population which had their houses demolished at the mayor’s orders was resettled in the abandoned factory of CUPROM, a former copper processing plant.
Such an incident recently took place in Bucharest. On December 7, multiple families were forcefully and unexpectedly evicted from a building on Anton Pann Street which was returned to its previous owner. The owner refused to renew the rental agreements. The eviction was enacted in illegal and abusive circumstances: the tenants didn’t receive a notice, no court enforcement officer was present and the Gendarmerie refused to present any legal document.
Azi dimineață a avut loc o evacuare forțată pe strada Anton Pann nr 7-9, în București, fără înștiințarea prealabilă a locatarilor și fără ca jandarmeria română să prezinte vreun act justificativ. A urmat un protest spontan la Primăria sectorului 3, cu scopul de cere o soluție adecvată – adică locuințe – familiilor aruncate in mod abuziv, ilegal în stradă. Familiile locuiesc în Anton Pann din anii 90, când au încheiat contracte de închiriere cu ICRAL. La începutul anilor 2000 imobilul a fost retrocedat și noul proprietar a refuzat să înnoiască contractele de închiriere. Familiile care au avut unde pleca s-au mutat, iar restul au rămas până acum în Anton Pann. Inițial, au fost asigurați verbal de către proprietar că pot să rămână acolo până la primăvară, dar – surpriză – s-au trezit cu jandarmeria la ușă, fără a primi somația de evacuare. În situații similare se află sute de bucureșteni! În timpul unor astfel de evenimente devine evident că poliția nu există pentru a proteja in vreun fel cetățenii, ci pentru a duce la capăt intențiile investitorilor privați. Deseori cu forța, și de multe ori încălcând legea. Sursa video: Frontul Comun pentru Dreptul la LocuireΔημοσιεύτηκε από GAS – Grupul de Acțiune Socialistă στις Τετάρτη, 7 Δεκεμβρίου 2022
The Common Front for Housing Rights (FCDL) mobilized a spontaneous protest in front of the District 3 City Hall, in which some GAS members participated. The demonstrators demanded an immediate solution in the form of granting social housing apartments to the evicted families. No document that would attest the legal grounds of the eviction has been presented to this day, and the sources of FCDL indicate an illicit collaboration between the police and the owner of the building.
Building an Alternative
From increasingly unaffordable rent to energy bills that keep the lights off, from forced evictions to marginalization in ghettos, the consequences of the contradictions inherent in the capitalist system are becoming evident for everyone who is affected by them during the crises that we are currently traversing. The masses are starting to realize that no authority and no politician will show out to listen to their demands and represent their interests. The recent protests, and the grassroots organizing to defend our own rights, as well as the indifference and the violent interventions of those who hold power, demonstrate this.
We need to construct an alternative to a system that currently functions exactly in the way it was meant to function: securing profit for our exploiters while pushing us into poverty. We need accessible housing. We need guaranteed utilities and transportation. We need an urban planning that centers on human needs. We need to have control over planning, production, construction and distribution.
Some steps in this direction are already being made, as the programatic content of the recent protests prove. The political consciousness of the masses will inevitably change under the current situation. We need an instrument to channel these energies into revolutionary political struggle and this is what the Socialist Action Group seeks to build.