Romania: resistance against corporate environmental destruction and politics-as-usual

Protesters block the main road in Bucharest

This article, on insistent protests against an environmentallt destructive mining project in Romania, was written for ROARmag.org, where a slightly differently edited version can already be found, together with a very useful comment on the article.

For 8 consecutive days, people in Romania have been protesting a planned mining project in Rosia Montana, a mountain village. The protest is directed against threatened environmental destruction. But protests also express distrust of the government, of parties and the political establishment in general. There is already talk of a “Romanian Autumn”. The worldwide struggle against corporate domination and the political assistance it is getting has opened a new front.

The mining project plans are almost ancient, but have been entering an new phase. “Gabriel Resources, which owns 80 percent of the Rosia Montana Gold Corporatuion, acquired a mining licence in 1999 but has been waiting ever since for a crucial permit from the environmental ministry.” In the meantime, there have been lawsuits while the company – a Canadian enterprise - tries to buy the property of people living there to make room for the project. However, “more than 100 villagers (...) are determined to stay. Supported by environmentalists, achitects and lawyers, the villagers' NGO has been battling the corporation and state authorities in courts.” They triggered a movement.

There is much at stake. “Gabriel Resources Ltd plans top expand and modernize old gold mines to extract over 300 tons of yellow metal and 1,500 tons of silver. The quarries would destroy four mountain peaks and three villages out 16 in the municipality. But the bigges scare of rights activists and environmentalists is the planned use of around 12,000 tons of toxic cyanide needed for the mining project each year.” The company claims that the project will bring 900 jobs, among other benefits. People are not at all convinced that these benefits are worth the destruction, and have started to protest.

Adding to the anger is the attitude of the government. The current government “proposed last week a law that would give Gabriel Resources extraordinary powers, including the right to conduct expropriations in Rosia Monta.” Apparently it was an new version of a law that has been suggested in 2011 – an initiative that already led to Occupy-style protests. The current law is being proposed by a Social Democratic government. But “while in opposition, Ponta's Social Democrats had declared themselves against the project.” This added a sense of disgust against the politicians and the establishment as such to the environmental anger. It is the familiar mix of anti-corporate sentiment and rejection of politics-as-usual that we have been seen in country after country.

And there has been street protest. On 1 September, people demonstrated in several cities. On 2 September, there were at least a thousand protesters gathered in the capital Bucharest, “surrounded by riot police as they sat down on the street, tapping plastic bottles on the ground, chanting 'United we will save Rosia Monta'” On 3 September, similar numbers, similar scenes.

And so it went. On 8 September, there was a day of action, with 15,000 people protesting : 8,000 in Bucharest, 6.000 in Cluj, . 900 in Brasov. One of the demands was the withdrawal of the law that gives the company room to proceed. “Corruption equals cyanide” was one of the slogans; “I love nature, not cyanide”, said another.

The movement appears as a breath of fresh air in Romanian society. Environmental activism on this scale is rather new in the country. “A whole generation people who, for the past 20 years, have been living each inside their own bubble, minding their own business, studying, building careers and families, has come out on the streets to raise its collective voice for the future of the next generation.” That is Alis Anagnostakis describing the new movement against the mining project. The Occupy-like language, with its infectious enthusiasm, is striking. No, 15,000 demonstrators is not yet a “whole generation”. It is, however, a most encouraging sign of revolutionary times.

And the movment changes the participants themselves: “For the past five days, people have been protesting in the streets every day. Tonight I joined them. It was my first public protest (...) I used to believe that instead of protesting in the streets people would do better changing something in their immediate surroundings. I used to be convinced that we'd all be better off talking less and doing more and focussing more on that each of us can do to make thiongs better. Tonight I understood that this is not enough. Sometimes in order to make the difference you need to be joined by others who share your beliefs and are willing to stand by you in facing bigger things than either of you.” This exhilarating discovery of your own strength as part of collective struggle is a major result of the strugghle, no matter what the outcome of the battle against the mining project will be.

Protests in Romania as such are not new. There have been strikes and demonstrations against austerity and corruption. In January and February 2012, protests against poverty and austerity, especially against a health service privatization plan preceded the fall of a government. This came after years of IMF-encouraged austerity , with drastic lowering of already very mediocre wages as component of this austerity. In this sense, the current protests are nothing new. What is relatively new is the environmental theme of the protest. And what is most encouraging is the sense in which in Romania, as in country after country, protests are breaking out and spreading. The Arab Spring may be in, hopefully temporary, retreat. The wordwide revolt, of which this Spring is only a part, is still spreading. To Romania, for instance.

Peter Storm
activist and publicist at http://www.ravotr.nl

Comments

Steven.
Sep 12 2013 21:58

Hey, thanks for writing/posting. Please keep us updated!

rooieravotr
Sep 13 2013 00:51

There is another informative article on ROAR: http://roarmag.org/2013/09/one-week-of-protests-whats-going-on-in-romania/
And they seem to be having result: the prime minister is advising the parliament to vote AGAINST the plan, while erlier they supported it, apparently: http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/09/11-8

Jeniffer Cooper
Sep 13 2013 07:37

Thanks for such a nice post. Looking forward to other such informative and interesting updates.