- Posted October 21, 2013 by
- Get the Frack out of Romania!
- The Romanian Autumn Continues: The Dawn of Real Democracy in Romania?
- Romania: three weeks of continuous protests against cyanide mining project
- 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 on fire: The Romanian Autumn expands
If you've attended a Rosia Montana protest in Romania, or elsewhere in the world, we invite you to share your stories and images with CNN iReport.
- zdan, CNN iReport producer
For the 8th Sunday in a row, tens of thousands of Romanians have taken to the streets of cities in Romania and abroad to protest against their government’s support for a cyanide-based open-pit mining project as well as hydraulic fracturing. Initially, the protests were mostly made up of young, educated, urban Romanian youth. Now, they have extended to comprise an increasingly diverse part of the population, including an important group, which had not demonstrated in Romania’s post-communist history, the farmers. The protesters’ increasing diversity and their relentless determination to success should concern the Romanian political leadership, which has been ostentatiously unresponsive to and defiant of their demands, because it is a clear sign of a new democratic era in Romania.
The Romanians are currently leading one of the largest environmental protest movements in the world. Over 200,000 Romanians have taken to the streets in cities across Romania and the world to protest against the government’s recent approval of draft legislation for 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 an estimated 314 tons of gold squirreled away in Rosia Montana, using 40 tons of cyanide per day. As many journalists and legal experts have argued, the draft law goes against the Romanian Constitution, for reasons which I have explored in previous articles.
Initially, the protesters were focused exclusively on stopping the government’s draft bill on the Rosia Montana project, by pursuing several specific goals, which included withdrawing the bill and banning cyanide mining in Romania. Nevertheless, the protesters had repeatedly expressed their support for the anti-fracking movement, which has been on-going since Chevron announced its intention to explore for shale gas in Romania in 2012, with multiple protests taking place since last year. The solidarity between the two movements was solidified when, on October 16, peasants in the village of Pungesti, Vaslui fell under the imminent threat of shale gas exploration, as Chevron trucks arrived with installation equipment on a field nearby. Hundreds of protesters came to defend their land by forming a human chain and non-violently resisting throughout the day, eventually forcing Chevron to withdraw its trucks. Since then, more surrounding villages have joined Pungesti in defending their land, demanding that Chevron leave and that the local authorities and the government respect their will.
While the Romanian protesters have maintained their global movement’s momentum, Romanian politicians have opted to defy their demands. The most recent act of defiance comes from the Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta, who has left on a trip to the United States to engage with Vice-President Joe Biden as well as the leaders of several companies, including Chevron and Exxon.
Leaving the country for an international visit, while the general public is boiling with manifestly expressed discontent, is something that Romania’s former dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, also did days before his overthrow. Ponta is walking on thin ice. He has become one of the key targeted political figures, as he has radically changed his views from opponent of the fracking and the Rosia Montana project, while in opposition, to staunch supporter, after gaining power. Moreover, Ponta has repeatedly offended the protesters and marginalized the importance of their opinion within the wider Romanian society. His visit to the US is already negatively perceived by the demonstrators as a subservient gesture of compliance to foreign interests.
Ponta is however not the only politician to insult the protesters, who, among other outlandish things, have been labeled as ‘hipsters,’ ‘eco-anarchists’ and ‘neo-fascists.’ The only link tying these significantly different offenses together is the political determination to discredit them at all costs.
In a country with a well-established democracy, the will of over 200,000 people, continuously and peacefully demonstrating with clear demands, would have been enough to revoke the draft Rosia Montana law and place an instant moratorium on fracking. For the Romanian politicians, this was clearly not enough, partly because they considered young Romanian protesters an insignificant voice in deciding their political future. They were somewhat justified in their assumptions. The Romanian youth, as a large number of their European peers, have been disenchanted with the political system and have disengaged from political and civic activities, including voting. An important part of the Romanian electorate is made up of rural, aging, largely illiterate voters, regarded by a large portion of politicians as a malleable and reliable electorate.
This might be about to change, as farmers, seeing their lands directly and imminently threatened by fracking and cyanide, are taking action and emulating the peaceful methods employed by their urban counterparts. As more rural communities join in the protests, the Romanian politicians can kiss their obedient electorate goodbye.
At the same time, thinking that the young protesters’ views don’t matter, because they haven’t voted in the past is simply wrong. Not only can they vote in future elections, but they can influence the direction in which their entire families do so as well.
The probability that Ponta and his government will stay in power is slim. They have started their current mandate with the Romanian people on a platform of hypocrisy, promising to end both cyanide mining and fracking, and proceeded to do the exact opposite. Now, they are defying hundreds of thousands of Romanians, who have called them out on their practices.
The current protests should come as a lesson to all future leadership. The Romanian people, from both urban and rural areas, have started a fundamental change: they will no longer willing to allow their politicians to silence, marginalize them and trample upon their rights. They want a respectful and compliant political leadership that acknowledges and fulfills their demands and they will not stop until they get it!