BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Despite freezing temperatures, tens of thousands of Romanians turned out Saturday to celebrate 100 years since their nation became a modern-day state, with some noting concerns now about the rule of law and the state of democracy in the Balkan nation.
Romanians waving the country’s flag attended huge military parades in Bucharest and Alba Iulia, the Transylvanian city that symbolizes Romania’s 1918 reunification. Crowds braved temperatures of -5 degrees Centigrade (23 degrees Fahrenheit) to watch tanks and military vehicles drive under the Triumphal Arch built after World War I.
While most considered the event a national celebration, some booed anti-riot police who participated in Saturday’s parade. That anger comes after police clashed in August with anti-corruption protesters, leaving 450 people injured.
Members of the ruling Social Democratic Party were booed at a ceremony in Alba Iulia, where President Klaus Iohannis, a political rival, called for Romanians to build a “dignified and powerful country, integrated through education, culture and creativity into a Europe of values, prosperity and freedom.”
More than 1,000 Romanians gathered Saturday evening outside government offices in Bucharest to protest high-level corruption, yelling “Resign!”
Electrician Gabriel Ene said he was glad that Romanians had “a free voice” but said the laws that the Social Democrat government wanted to pass “will support liars and thieves.”
Other Romanians celebrated the day with the traditional dish of cabbage rolls stuffed with minced meat and rice and polenta.
The U.S. and the European Union are among those criticizing a judicial overhaul in Romania by the Social Democrats that they claim will undermine the fight against government corruption.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo thanked Romania for contributing to global and Black Sea security as a NATO member and participating in missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. His statement said Washington stands with Romania “in its efforts to uphold democratic values and the rule of law…which are … the foundation of economic growth and prosperity.”
Romania entered World War I siding with Britain, France and other allies in 1916 but capitulated to the Central powers led by Germany. It re-entered World War I in 1918, and doubled its territory after the end of the war.
That was partly thanks to Romanian Queen Marie, the granddaughter of Britain’s Queen Victoria and of Russia’s czar, who warned the Allied victors there could be an uprising if Romania didn’t reunite with Transylvania, which until the war had been part of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
The end of World War I brought about the end of the sprawling Austro-Hungarian empire.