- Posted September 6, 2013 by
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‘The Arab Spring, the Turkish Summer, The Romanian Autumn’: Romanian protests as a model of peaceful demonstration
With all the protesting that has been happening recently around the world, she says she wanted to pay tribute to the non-violent protesting, which has continued for the sixth day in Rosia Montana over a controversial mining project that critics say will destroy historic villages and ancient gold mines. 'I hope that Rosia Montana is protected and saved from this devastating project. I hope my story gives voices to the plight of the hundreds of thousands of Romanians that are still on the streets of Bucharest demanding that their government represent their wishes,' she said.
- Jareen, CNN iReport producer
The first line of the title is one of the slogans used by thousands of Romanian protesters who have taken to the streets of several Romanian cities, including the capital, Bucharest, for the fifth day consecutively. They oppose the government’s recent approval of a draft legislation on an open-pit cyanide-based mining project at Rosia Montana. According to Gabriel Resources Ltd., the Canadian company behind the scheme, the plan for the project is to dig up the estimated 314 tons of gold squirreled away in Rosia Montana using an astonishing amount of 40 tons of cyanide per day. The Romanian protesters expressed their resistance to the project and demanded the government’s resignation, while sending a similar warning signal to the opposition.
These protests can be considered a model of nonviolent resistance for environmental and non-environmental causes alike, through their focus on community education and awareness raising, their use of arts to promote their message and their strategically organized sit-ins. Facing a lack of TV coverage of their demonstrations, the protesters have found alternative outlets, such as social media platforms, to raise awareness about their actions. Apart from their international relevance, the protests mark a historic moment for Romania, as they not only capture the fact that the Romanian public is increasingly determined to make its voice heard and demand respect and proper representation by those in power, but also that it has learned how to effectively express its demands.
The draft law, which the Romanian Parliament is expected to vote on in the upcoming month, has recently been rejected as completely unconstitutional by the Romanian Ministry of Justice. The latter has entirely rejected the government’s actions, by emphasizing that a contractual agreement falling under private law cannot become a piece of legislation, because it does not correspond to the Constitution’s purpose to provide regulations of a general societal nature.
Another key criticism highlighted by the Ministry of Justice as well as many other sources is that the bill allows the private company to de facto take over the role of the Romanian state in conducting expropriations in the area and in deciding entirely by itself on expanding its exploitation perimeter. These provisions target around 100 families in Rosia Montana who have refused to sell their properties and leave the village situated in close proximity to the mine, despite pressures from the Canadian company and local leaders. Finally, the Ministry’s analysis condemns the draft law, because it imposes an obligation on the Romanian authorities to reissue any act or AVIZ needed by the Canadian company, even those that have been already invalidated definitively and irrevocably in court, within maximally 30 days after they bring forth the necessary documentation. All in all, as analyst Raul Muresan points out, the text of the draft legislation represents “a kneeling of the Romanian state in front of the Canadian company, by conferring it powers above the law.”
Given its content, it is no surprise that, the Romanian public and the diaspora launched the Romanian Autumn, a massive street protest movement uniting hundreds of thousands of people from Washington D.C. to Kathmandu in a global effort to save Rosia Montana. A significant part of the Romanian public has been opposing the Canadian-led project for years, given that its approval would mean destroying four forested mountains, contaminating multiple rivers and devastating several fragile ecosystems. It would also require the damming up of one end of the Corna valley to hold 250 million tons of cyanide-laced waste generated by the gold leaching.
These are the first large-scale environmental protests since the fall of communism and the second largest since 1991, after the 2012 anti-governmental demonstrations.
In their fifth day already, the protests have remained peaceful and embraced a nonviolent resistance approach. Showing their creativity, the protesters have come up with numerous chants and songs that they sing together and have adorned the streets with drawings and messages about Rosia Montana. In Bucharest, the protesters have also organized sit-ins on the main boulevards, kneeling on the streets, in order to block traffic and draw the media’s attention. In the spirit of nonviolent resistance, people and non-governmental organizations have been organizing discussions and workshops to teach protesters as well as passers-by about Rosia Montana and the Canadian-led mining project’s implications.
The Romanian Autumn is dominated by the young generation of Romanians, most of whom have not experienced communism or lived in the feared of the restrictions faced by their parents and grand-parents. They are proving that they will not let themselves be trampled by political decisions and that they will peacefully, but resolutely demonstrate against unjust and dangerous decisions.
These aspects come in contrast with the 2012 anti-governmental protests. The latter had very dispersed goals, ranging from demanding higher wages and pensions to the government’s and the president’s resignation. Multiple politicians condemned them of being disorganized. The protests gathered people from many paths of live, from pensioners to students, and turned violent, as the demonstrators clashed with the police. Nevertheless, they played a key role in mobilizing the Romanian population to act for the first since the early 1990s and determined the political class to accomplish some of the demands.
The 2012 protests were amply reported by most, if not all TV channels in Romania, most of whom were using them with their own political agenda in mind. In contrast, in the case of the 2013 protests to save Rosia Montana, the press has tried to silence the protesters demands by simply not reporting on them. According to a Media Image analysis on the protests’ visibility in the media on their first day, only Realitatea TV, B1TV and DIGI24 ensured live coverage of the protests. Major television channels, such as Antena1, Prima TV and the public channel RomaniaTV, did not show any news concerning the protests throughout their entire first day.
Apart from DIGI24, all of the aforementioned TV stations were involved in showing the promotional commercial paid by the Canadian company. An expert from Media Watch stressed that, even covering the protests did not guarantee an honest representation, since the information was manipulated, as some agencies tried to downplay the size and importance of the protests.
As part of their creative approach to resisting, the protesters have developed measures to bypass the lack of media attention. Apart from complaining about the media’s absence through chants and songs, they have taken over social media websites, such as Twitter and Facebook, and blogs to raise national and international awareness about their goals and the Rosia Montana project.
If the Romanian Autumn manages to succeed in preventing the Parliament to vote positively on this outrageous and dangerous draft bill, it would mark one of the biggest environmental victories of our times. The environment is vital for everyone equally. The Romanian Autumn can only succeed with the support of responsible citizens from across the globe. Saving Rosia Montana would be a victory not only for the Romanians, but for the world, because it would set a precedent on how mining should be properly conducted. Every gesture plays a role. The more vocal and visible the transnational movement to support the protesters and the more pressure the international community places on the Romanian state, the smaller the probability that the bill will pass. A unified global outcry can save Rosia Montana and send a key message to politicians, big businesses and the media everywhere that people will make themselves heard, as they are the ones entitled to decide the fate of their land and resources.