On January 31, 2017, Romania’s ruling coalition issued a decree (executive order) to decriminalize abuse of power offences, if the sums involved were less than $48,500. Ordered without any feedback from parliament, the decree was staunchly criticized because of the implication that it would be used to protect corrupt government officials accused of misappropriating funds within the monetary range. According to a Time article, the decree, if passed, “would have stopped all investigations for pending corruption offences, freed officials imprisoned for corruption, and blocked further investigations related to those offences from being brought to justice.”
In a country where the average monthly income is less than $700, the law, which would have taken into effect on February 10, was seen as a slap in the face by the Romanian people. In response to this injustice, approximately 300,000 Romanians took to the streets for what would become a week-long protest – the largest the country has seen since the fall of former communist dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989.
Opponents to the law argue that the decree would have benefitted politicians like Livui Dragnea, president of the Social Democrat Party (PSD), who recently came into power after protests forced former PSD leader, Victor Ponta, to resign in October 2015. Dragnea, who faces charges of defrauding the state of approximately $26,000, is also under investigation over abuse of power allegations after previously receiving a two-year suspended sentence for an elections offense.
As tensions continued to flare over the suspicious decree, hundreds of thousands of protestors took the streets of Bucharest and rallied outside government offices to condemn the proposed law. On Sunday, February 5, after six straight days of demonstrations, the decree was officially repealed in a government statement following an emergency meeting of Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu’s cabinet.
Grindeanu stated on Saturday:
“I don’t want to divide Romania. Romania cannot be torn apart. Romania in this moment due to what’s going on seems to be divided, but it’s my last wish to get to anything like that.”
Although the EU had warned Romanian government officials of the dangers associated with returning to corrupt practices, it is believed Dragnea attempted to pass the law as a way to save himself from any legal consequences.
According to comments made by a Romanian software developer named Gabi:
“[Dragnea] was making a law for himself, by his party. It made me decide to register the bitnation.ro domain and start establishing a digital city in my home town of Iashi. Hopefully other cities in Romania will follow.”
Blockchain Political Action
Gabi acquired the attention of Bitnation founder Susanne Tempelhof and, in a recently uploaded YouTube video, explained how his interests in cryptocurrency led him to the realization that bitcoin and blockchain technology “could be an alternative to almost anything.”
In the video, Gabi goes on to say that the government’s explanation for the decree was to reduce the amount of criminals in Romania’s prison system, which he believes is false. After reading about Bitnation, Gabi felt empowered to make a difference by applying the self-sovereignty governance models outlined on Bitnation’s website.
According to comments made by Tempelhof:
"We have seen a lot more people joining Bitnation and creating their own local versions of it during the protests in Brazil and South Korea. It's an interesting development. People are not satisfied with the status quo. Why should we have to choose in each jurisdiction just one government service provider that lasts for four years?"
After switching from Bitcoin to the Ethereum Blockhain in early 2016, Tempelhof redesigned Bitnation’s Governance 2.0 System to utilize smart contracts that were better suited for their needs and technical applications. In an article published by ETHNews, Tempelhof states:
“Instead of voting like in a democratic system of government, a holacractic government seeks agreement between consenting individuals represented by tokens. Access to governmental services would be dramatically cheaper in this model, and would eventually outcompete traditional governments.”
Additionally, Tempelhof provides practical advice on starting a digital nation:
"Start by looking at governance service agreements. People normally start a nation with a flag and a national anthem. I would say do that last."
While Romanians view the withdrawal of the decree as a victory, Romania’s political future remains uncertain at best. Even after being admitted into the E.U. in 2007, The Guardian reported that between 2014 and 2016, approximately 2,000 people were convicted for abuse of power, including former prime minster, Adrian Nastase, five minsters, 16 parliamentarians, and five senators who were put on trial.
With such a corruption-riddled history, it is easy to remain pessimistic. Initiatives like Bitnation, however, aim to provide governance alternatives to everyday citizens that can be built using the Ethereum blockchain. Whether or not these digital nations will be recognized is too early to tell, though future protests and other political actions can be strengthened through the discussions this technology sparks, while also providing real world solutions for redefining the governments’ role in our daily lives.