The Civic Duty to Denounce: The Romanian Middle Class and its Demands for Security

Abstract

This article deals with denunciations from people in the city of Timişoara, Romania. It focuses on Cristian Brâncovan, a so-called national champion of justice and the author of an online campaign against pickpockets that started in 2016. He has photographed suspects, published their photographs on his Facebook page, and occasionally harassed them in the street. Most, if not all, of his suspects were of Roma origins. The article also examines denunciations made anonymously to the Timişoara Local Police that the police then use to legitimize the arrests, evictions, and harassment of marginalized groups. Denouncing is regarded as a civic act, one by which the denouncer fulfills his/her/their duty as a citizen and contributes to public order and security. As such, the article highlights the active role of the population at the grassroots level to articulate the discourses and practices of moral panic. I argue that such practices are an instrument through which the Romanian middle class upholds its need for an ethical form of politics. The middle class in Romania uses denunciation as a way to enact, speak, and solicit security during episodes of moral panic. By demanding security, the Romanian middle class enforces a set of “civilized” principles against two distinct, yet related, “others”—the communist past and the underprivileged precariat. In this way, denunciations reinforce the state’s repression against marginal groups.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    It is worth mentioning that despite its name, the Social Democratic Party in Romania adheres almost full-heartedly to neoliberal politics, to which it occasionally adds a touch of redistributive policies, mostly for electoral reasons (Ban 2016).

  2. 2.

    The “grassroots level” serves, of course, as an ideal type, and I concur fully with Rohloff and Wright (2010) that one needs to consider the plurality of reactions to and situations involving moral panics. I do insist, however, that more attention to popular anxieties is needed.

  3. 3.

    For reviews of the theoretical links between critical criminology and critical security scholarships, see, e.g., Aradau and Van Munster (2009); Jones (2012); Schwell (2015).

  4. 4.

    More recently, Herring (2019) used the term “complaint-oriented policing” to look at the ways in which the San Francisco Police Department responds to 911 calls from individuals and businesses to remove homeless people from their camping sites in the city. The relatively lenient style of policing that he observed in his research differs substantially from the brutality of the Romanian police.

  5. 5.

    The marketplace and the park stand in close vicinity to the new buildings of the so-called “Business Center”—a “premium quality office complex” of 43,000 square meters, which opened in 2014. The “Business Center” was financed by Nepi Rockcastle, a company that owns other businesses throughout Romania, such as shopping malls in Bucharest and Sibiu (see http://www.business-centre.ro/community.html).

  6. 6.

    Despite the Social Democratic Party’s support for neoliberal policies that I mentioned above, in contemporary Romania, the anti-communist discursive position implies, among others, expressing opposition to the Social Democratic Party.

  7. 7.

    I am grateful to one anonymous reviewer for the references in this paragraph.

  8. 8.

    In September 2020, Brâncovan ran independently for the presidency of the council of Timiş County, the district around Timişoara. He received 14,200 votes from the entire county, which were not enough to win. His electoral campaign emphasized his prominent role in getting rid of Timişoara’s pickpockets, while committing to do the same with the country’s corrupt political class.

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This article is the result of fully independent research. The author did not receive any financial support or resources from academic institutions or from governmental, nonprofit or private entities. The author had no academic affiliation at the time of research, writing and publishing. This article would not have been possible without the help of Veda Popovici, Suzana Lungu, and Erin McElroy. The author would also like to thank two anonymous reviewers, as well as the editors of Critical Criminology: An International Journal, for their valuable input and suggestions.

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Mireanu, M. The Civic Duty to Denounce: The Romanian Middle Class and its Demands for Security. Crit Crim (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10612-020-09546-w

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