PR und Kommunikationsmanagement

Protest and Social Movements and why their importance will grow

How protests happen in a communicative way in 21st century and what communicators need to know. An interview with our professor Ana Adi. 

Quadriga Team: We have heard a lot about the North African protest movements some years ago, but less about the more recent Romanian ones. What makes them distinct?

Ana Adi: The Arab Spring, as the North African protests you refer to were collectively referred as, made taking of squares fashionable and highlighted the value of social media to connect like-minded people and amplify their messages. It is also the places and countries, deemed un-democratic, where the “Spring” took place that perhaps made them “fascinating”. Beyond their media attention, the Arab Spring has inspired many other protests and movements around the world, from the worldwide Occupy to the Spanish Indignados.

Unlike the Arab Spring, the Romanian protests took place in an EU member country, a relatively young democracy still fighting its communist heritage. And unlike the Arab Spring, the Romanian protests of last January were part of a series held in Romania’s capital, major cities and diaspora since 2007, all of which have been successful in seeing their demands met: whether it was stopping a company to mine for gold using cyanide, having a Prime Minister step down or stop a legislative initiative. And they did receive international attention, both political and media, but they have perhaps maintained it less, perhaps due to the fact that their demands have been met.

The chapters of Pojoranu and Gross cover some of that history, while the chapter from Bortun & Cheregi explain the conflict (generational, educational, perspective) that these protests have highlighted.

What was the use of Social Media?

Like with other protests, social media was a platform to communicate and organize and has moved from personal spaces to community ones. Most of the protesters I have interviewed (see my chapter on Protester Profiles) have used Facebook mainly to share their thoughts and feelings (from amazement, to frustration and anger) to their friends and communicate their emotional and immediate decision to go protest. It is only later that they either joined or created their own groups (such as Coruptia Ucide, Rezistampanalacapat) and even their own media channels (such as Rezistenta TV).

What makes the publication you did particularly strong? What are its highlights?

Our online publication, to my knowledge, is the first to focus on the Rezist 2017 protests and explain their context in such a timely manner. The protests happened in January-March 2017 and we published our report by mid-June. This is also a publication featuring scholars, politicians, protesters and NGO representatives providing the readers with a wealth of perspectives and analyses. As we put it in our introductory chapter:

  • Firstly we seek to develop a more thorough understanding of the origins of the protest within Romanian politics and society and place this protest within the context of protests since 1989.
  • Secondly we focus on developing an understanding of the motivations of the protagonists, the trigger that led them to protest and the aims of that movement.
  • Thirdly we explore the communicational dynamics that both hinder and sustain the protests, and
  • Finally we look to the impact had by the protests and the future trajectory for Romania and well as situating these protests within a wider comparative perspective (Adi & Lilleker, 2017, p. 6).

Each chapter in the report is a highlight in itself -  whether a historical overview of protests (Pojoranu) or Romania’s long history of fighting corruption (Alistar et al), a politician’s warning (Macovei), a scholar’s analysis of the relevance of place in these protests (Ciobanu & Light) or of the use of humor (Armanca), an NGO’s representative insight into a campaign to stop funding fake news churning tv stations (Feher) and many others – they all provide and discuss the 2017 protests from different perspectives.

The lessons from the book are multiple too. We have shared some of those with IPREACD and Chatham House. We have also shared some of our insight to various events held either in Romania or by members of diaspora.

For communicators in particular, apart from the lessons of social media communication and organizing, this report emphasized last year two themes that has become more visible only this year: values-based business models and thus values-based communication, and communicators as activists.

Looking to the future, do you expect to see more such protests? 

Yes. The Rezist protests may have dwindled but they continued after our report was launched only to grow again when issues, mainly legislative initiatives, were deemed inappropriate or dangerous. Less than a week ago, protesters took to the streets to voice their concern and oppose the proposed changes to the criminal procedure code. But perhaps the biggest results of these protests are the emergence of a stronger sense of civic engagement as well as the formation of a new political options such as Miscarea Romania Impreuna (Romania Together Movement).