- Posted September 23, 2013 by
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- Romania’s High-Level Political Schizophrenia: How to be simultaneously pro- and against a project
- ‘The Arab Spring, the Turkish Summer, The Romanian Autumn’: Romanian protests as a model of peaceful demonstration
Romania: three weeks of continuous protests against cyanide mining project
“Most international media sources are not covering the largest environmental protests in the world at this moment and the largest protest in my country and Europe. It's a story that needs to be told. Someone has to, so I'll do it,” she said.
Just on Sunday, more than 15,000 people in Romania protested against the Rosia Montana project, according to Romanian news agency Mediafax. And the day before, about 5,000 demonstrators protested throughout the country, according to CNN affiliate Antena 3 TV in Romania.
The 25-year-old aspiring journalist also has her country at heart. “I want to avoid my country having to deal with the largest ecological disaster it has ever faced and setting the wrong precedent in Europe and the world,” she said.
See Besliu's previous iReport on Rosia Montana.
- zdan, CNN iReport producer
For the fourth Sunday in a row, the Romanian population has organized a global protest movement, taking place in over 60 cities across Romania and the world, ranging from Washington DC to Shanghai. Around 15,000 people in the Romanian capital and 10,000 more people in Cluj-Napoca, the second-largest city in the Eastern European country, have taken to the streets to protest against their government’s recent approval of a draft legislation of 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 have expressed their opposition to the project and have created a short, but comprehensive list of clear objectives that they expect their politicians to respect. These include rejecting the draft law, banning cyanide mining and placing Rosia Montana on Romania’s proposal list for UNESCO.
Caught between the interests of a company, which has been fighting for over 10 years to start the project and an increasingly angry Romanian public, the Romanian politicians have been seemingly scrambling for a solution. After the Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta declared that the project would be voted under emergency procedure and would surely be rejected by the Parliament, the latter instead decided to establish a special parliamentary commission comprising 21 parliamentarians, which is supposed to analyze the project and its implications and give or withhold its approval.
This is a completely pointless enterprise, given that the draft law is perfectly unconstitutional and the project is beyond doubt socio-economically and culturally detrimental for Romania, as I and many other journalists and experts have shown in previous articles or reports. The commission indirectly aims to achieve something that some Romanian politicians and the Canadian company would desire: to appease the Romanian protesters and deflate their movement. It is due to present its findings only at the beginning of November, after visiting Rosia Montana and claiming to discuss with representatives from all interested parties. It is imperative for the Romanians to continue, even amplify, their protests, if they want to win this historic battle, augment their political demands and start conceptualizing political alternatives for their country.
The commission is not even in appearance neutral, given that several of its members, such as Gabriela Vranceanu Firea and Ioan Darzu, have made statements in support of the Canadian-led mining project.
This is not the first slap in the face that high-level Romanian politicians give their people. Among other things, instead of addressing the over 20,000 people that had been protesting on the streets of Romania two weeks ago, Prime Minister Victor Ponta preferred to head to Rosia Montana, dress up in the Canadian company’s mining gear and talk to 33 miners, who had locked themselves up in the mine demanding that the project start. He then proceeded to insult one of the key demands of the protesters, by claiming that tourism is not a sustainable solution for Rosia Montana.
In contrast, Europa Nostra, the leading European heritage organization, alongside the European Investment Bank Institute, recognized Rosia Montana’s key cultural and touristic potential, when it selected it in June 2013 as one of the “7 Most Endangered Landmarks” in Europe out of 42 candidates from 21 different countries. Being among the final seven did not only highlight the endangered Romanian region as an important cultural and natural European landmark, but it also guaranteed it a strategic rescue and rehabilitation plan and the needed funds to pursue it. Even though Europa Nostra has already forth a viable alternative development path for Rosia Montana, and demonstrated its willingness to invest in the region, the Romanian Prime Minister is just not buying it.
To him, cyanide is the sustainable path. It’s not like Romania experienced the largest environmental disaster after Chernobyl as a result of a cyanide spill. Expected it did! In 2000, in Baia Mare, a poorly-built dam broke, spilling 100,000 cubic meters of cyanide-contaminated water into the Somes river.
Clearly the Romanian Prime Minister is not one to learn from previous mistakes. Otherwise, he would certainly remember that the previous government toppled last year was overthrown partly because of its support of the Rosia Montana project. At that time, opposition leader Ponta was a vehement opponent of the project. Yet, here he is, a year later, dressed in the Canadian company’s mining gear, acting as the key cheerleader of the cyanide-based mining project.
After listening to the grievances of the 33 miners and convincing them to come out of the mine, Ponta showed his willingness to negotiate with representatives of the hundreds of thousands of Romanians who had been daily on the streets for around three weeks. He complained, however, that it is hard to identify those leaders.
In response, Eugen David, the leader of one of the key NGOs behind the protests, Alburnus Maior, gave a poignant response: “The movement has no leaders, only a conscience. It is impossible for Victor Ponta to discuss with 25,000 in Bucharest and thousands more in the country and abroad. Our demands are not to be discussed or negotiated, we will take to the street until every single one of our points is properly addressed.”
These protests, beautifully described by Mr. David, are an example of non-violent resistance, as I argued in a previous article. Their young participants have been respectfully clear about their objectives, while trying to engage other parts of the Romanian population, which may still be uninformed or misinformed by the intense media campaign led by the Canadian company.
Yet, in order to be successful on the long-term, the protests are missing two key elements. They need to become increasingly vocal in their demand for political accountability, not just focusing on Ponta and the key Ministers involved in writing the draft bill, but on the members of Parliament and of the special parliamentary commission, who have supported the project.
Secondly and perhaps most importantly, the protesters should start conceiving a real political alternative. The liberal democratic-led coalition government already fell last year and arguably few, if any, positive changes have resulted from the coming in power of the social democratic-led government. If the latter were to fall, the former leaders would most likely seize power again, plunging the country into a vicious circle.
What an alternative would look like is a discussion that the protesters have to lead among themselves. It could be a new political party, demanding reforms in the electoral system or something entirely original. This discussion, which needs to take place now, would not undermine their clear demands, but strengthen them, by showing the political class that it is not indispensable and that are other ways to lead the country. Otherwise, they may win the battle for Rosia Montana, but lose the political war.
While waiting for the commission to give its decision in November, the protesters should not only continue their protests, but intensify them and diversify their strategies. The Romanian politicians and the Canadian company are waiting for the protesters to become fatigued in their battle. The protesters should use this time to devise an alternative political solution and rally international support to put pressure on the parliament. It is a war that the Romanian public cannot afford to lose. The stakes are high, the fight is long and uneven, but the Romanian protesters’ victory will be nationally and internationally resounding if they carry on with the conviction they are writing a key page of history!