- Posted September 11, 2013 by
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Romania’s High-Level Political Schizophrenia: How to be simultaneously pro- and against a project
Thousands of Romanians have taken to the streets in cities across Romania and the world on the 11th consecutive day of protests to 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 is to dig up the estimated 314 tons of gold found at Rosia Montana using around 40 tons of cyanide per day. The peaceful protests, which can be considered a model of nonviolent resistance, expressed their opposition to the project and demanded the government’s resignation, while sending a similar warning signal to the opposition.
Although the Romanian demonstrators have tried to engage their politicians in a dialogue regarding the project, throughout the 11 consecutive days of protests, almost no member of the Romanian political class has bothered to discuss with them directly. Some Romanian politicians, such as President Traian Basescu and Prime Minister Victor Ponta, seem to suffer from a severe case of political schizophrenia, as suggested by Ludovic Orban from Romania's Liberal Party, given that they have both supported and simultaneously opposed the project. What Romanian politicians seem to forget is that nothing in politics stays in the past and that their current schizophrenic behavior and lack of engagement with the protesters will come to haunt them, if not soon, through the government’s demise, at least during the 2014 presidential elections.
President Basescu has been one of the key supporters of the Rosia Montana project. In the past, the Romanian leader went so far as to publically claim that the mining project would “ecologize” the region and that less cyanide would be used than that found in a cup of coffee .Most recently, as a response to the protests, the President stressed that, even though he had been a supporter of the mining project, he wanted to be neutral from now on, in order to become a credible mediator in the discussions on the project. This last sentence suggests that the Romanian President must be schizophrenic, as he certainly cannot wish to imply that the Romanian public is incapable of knowing the difference between ‘supporter’ and ‘neutral arbiter.’
Surpassing even the President, Prime Minister Ponta has gone from ardent opponent of the project, while in opposition, to supporter, as he has repeatedly declared the project to be important for Romania and allowed the draft bill approving the Canadian-led project to pass, to simultaneous supporter/opponent. On the 5th of September 2011, in a blog post entitled “Rosia Montana-USL’s position,” the then opposition leader Ponta shared 7 key points why the Coalition was against the Canadian project in its proposed format and called for additional safeguards. These included the needs to make public and transparent the clauses of the contract and to respect the right to property and ensure that no one gets expropriated in Rosia Montana. Ponta explicitly stated in his blog post that Gabriel Resources had “spread erroneous and constantly changing public messages” and accused President Basescu of misinforming the population about the mining project.
Since gaining power, the Prime Minister and his Social Liberal Union (USL), an alliance of several political parties, have radically changed their position. At the present moment, Prime Minister Ponta and his fellow USL members seem to be even more willing than the previous government to bend the law of Romania, including on many of the issues that they once considered inviolable to ensure that the project goes ahead. Among many other things, under the leadership of Mr. Ponta, the Romanian government has not released any public information about its intentions at Rosia Montana since the beginning of 2013, maintaining the same level of secrecy as the previous government. The Romanian Prime Minister has repeatedly called the project important and mentioned that it would bring needed employment to the Alba county, which, according to him, would otherwise be destroyed economically. Still, after approving the draft bill, Mr. Ponta stressed that, as a deputy, he would vote against it.
On the eight day of the protests, the head of the Romanian Liberal Party, part of the USL alliance, Crin Antonescu declared that he and his party would not approve the draft bill in Parliament. He thus placed Mr. Ponta in a difficult position. Given the unprecedented level of popular support for the Rosia Montana protests, making the wrong move on the project could cost their coalition the Presidential seat, for which Antonescu will likely run, during the 2014 presidential elections. Through his declaration, Mr. Antonescu tried to secure his back, leaving the current Prime Minister to fend for himself. Still, in order for USL and Antonescu to have a chance of winning the 2014 Presidential race, Mr. Ponta has to ensure that the Parliament rejects the mining project.
In response to Mr. Antonescu’s comments, Mr. Ponta immediately stepped out to declare that the draft bill would not be approved by Parliament. Still, in an effort to rhetorically prop up the Canadian-led initiative and dissuade the Romanian public from continuing to protest, the Prime Minister stressed that, if the project were stopped, the Canadian company will sue the Romanian state, which will have to pay compensation coming out of the pockets of Romanian citizens. He failed to reveal that, were the project to take place, the Romanian population would have to foot the bill for massive environmental clean-up costs, the loss of gold and lack of profits that would burden the region and the country. That bill is likely to be significantly larger than any compensation costs.
It is also rather unlikely that the company would actually initiate a trial against Romania. First of all, in its official statements, the Canadian company has announced that it could consider the possibility of suing, if the bill is not approved. This is clearly not a certitude, as Mr. Ponta suggested. In fact, it would not be in the company’s interest, given that the trial could reveal its illegalities conducted throughout the years.
Even if the Canadian company were to start a trial, it would likely not win it, given that it has not respected manycontractual obligations, as shown by several Romanian court decisions, regarding issues such as the urban planning and archeological discharge certificates. The Romanian state had no responsibility in these wrongdoings and, thus, would not be liable to pay.
Apart from their potential impact on next year’s elections, the protests could have an immediate political impact, were the bill to pass. They could lead to the overthrow of the current government. This would be the second government dismissed in Romania within a year.
Given the schizophrenic behavior of their politicians, it comes as no surprise that the protesters have received the Prime Minister’s announcement that the bill would not pass with skepticism and continued to protest. As aptly stressed by Mihai Gotiu in an article, these claims have not been followed by any real measures. The draft law has not been withdrawn, but will be voted in an emergency procedure, suppressing any real debate in Parliament. Gotiu also mentions that the ministers responsible for writing the draft law, including the Minister of the Environment, have yet to be demitted.
Constantly betrayed by their political class, the demonstrators are no longer accepting political deceit and will fight until they see their goals’ accomplished. As Alburnus Maior, one of the NGOs opposing the project for year, has announced, the protests will continue until the draft bill will be rejected, Rosia Montana will be included on Romania’s list for UNESCO and cyanide-based mining will be banned in Romania. If they wish to remain in power, Romania’s leaders cannot continue to act schizophrenically and neglect the people's demands.