Bucharest (AFP) – Amid the almost daily crowds of anti-government protesters in the Romanian capital Bucharest, there’s one name on the lips of many of those gathered outside government headquarters: the 101-year-old many of them see as their guiding light.
As he moves slowly through the crowd, philosopher Mihai Sora — who counts 100,000 followers on Facebook — quickly attracts appreciation from his many fans.
“You’re an inspiration!” says one, while another shouts: “Thank you, maestro!”
Sora often retreats under his wide, dark-brimmed hat from the adoration and the glare of the TV cameras, but he’s not reticent about stating his reasons for joining the wave of protests condemning the government’s campaign against alleged abuses by the judiciary.
“I’m a citizen who is aware not only of his rights, but of his duties too, which I have to fulfil when the country is at a crossroads”, Sora told AFP during one of the protests.
While previously better known for his numerous philosophical essays, Sora now sees his place among the demonstrators opposing what they say are the government’s attempts to hobble the fight against corruption.
– ‘Contagious’ enthusiasm –
The protesters say the government, led by the left-wing Social Democratic Party (PSD), is trying to protect some of its own high-ranking members from legal troubles.
Last week Romania’s Supreme Court sentenced the head of the PSD, Liviu Dragnea, to three-and-a-half years in prison, a second conviction in two years for the man who’s widely seen as the most powerful politician in the country.
Sora, who describes himself as “a man of justice”, insists that political leaders “should see reality as it is,… not based on their own interests”.
“What concerns me the most is the long-term fate of the country. Romania needs a clear trajectory. It cannot afford to make a wrong turn”, he says.
Sora takes the metro to attend the protests almost daily, often accompanied by his wife, whom he married just four years ago at the age of 98.
“His enthusiasm is contagious”, says fellow protestor and economist Tincuta, while 36-year-old Georgiana says his presence in Victory Square is “a lesson for the youth”.
“He symbolises respect for truth and justice”, says Laurentiu, 63, clearly touched after exchanging a few words with Sora.
– “Move, old man!” –
Sora, born in 1916, makes full use of new technology and social media.
His frequent Facebook posts include one in which he recounted the moment during one of the protests when a security officer told him: “Move, old man!”
He often brings a humorous touch to his posts lambasting the government.
After Dragnea caused outrage earlier this month by branding his opponents “rats”, Sora used the Romanian word for “rat” to create the hashtag #JeSuisSobolan.
But the admiration of Sora is not universal.
His critics point to his work in the late 1940s for the communist-controlled foreign ministry, shortly after returning to Romania after a ten-year spell in France.
Sora says he was only planning to return to Romania for a few days but was stuck there by the descent of the Iron Curtain.
He found himself targeted by the secret police of the regime, now a Soviet satellite, and fired from several jobs.
“In the years that they spied on me, my phone was tapped and my letters were opened. The dossier that the Securitate (Romania’s secret police) had on me was overwhelming”, Sora said recently.
But his past doesn’t faze those who gather round to hear him speak at the demonstrations, despite his shyness.
“I’ve come to be among my people who are suffering — I want justice to prevail,” Sora says.