Save Roşia Montana! The rise of a sleeping nation

Posted on 09. September 2013

by Doru Toma

Doru TomaFor the last eight days, Bucharest’s University Square has been the new Syntagma or Taksim Square of the region. Since September 1st, thousands of people have gathered in the center of Bucharest each evening to protest against a law concerning the mining project in Roşia Montana, drafted by the Government and sent to the Parliament for approval.

After almost 15 years of delays, the current Government (a coalition of Socialists and Liberals) passed on August 27th a new law that gives the green light to the Roşia Montana Gold Corporation (RMGC), owned by the Canadian gold giant Gabriel Resources, to start the exploitation of gold and silver in Roşia Montana as of November 2016. The new legislation is unconstitutional; thus against rule of law principles, says the Romanian Ministry of Justice in its note from August 13th; it gives to RMGC, a private owned company, the right to expropriate the local population against their will.

Specialists say that under the little village in the Apuseni Mountains, lies Europe’s most important gold and silver deposit. In its cooperation with RMGC, the Romanian State issued some years ago a law saying Roşia Montana is an industrial area and no other investments are to be made here (villagers are not even allowed to open a pension or a marmalade factory). Briefly, the area was sentenced to poverty. Many left the village, selling their houses to the company who promised jobs and erected a brand new neighborhood near Alba-Iulia,  the nearest town and capital city of the county.

If the project were to commence, the gold mine would be the biggest exploitation in Europe. Romania’s participation is about 24% with a royalty of no more than 6%, applied only to the gold and silver extracted in Roşia Montana. The contract between the Romanian State and Gabriel Resources stipulates that any other metals that would be discovered in the deposit are to remain in the property of the company. It is said that the four mountains that would be destroyed contain important amounts of gallium, titanium, cobalt, nickel, molybdenum or vanadium (more details in the infograph below – all rights reserved to quickdata.ro).

The main argument against the project is the quantity of cyanide planned to be used – up to 13.000 tons per year, 13 times more than is used in European Union. Furthermore, it would see the destruction of the environment (four mountains would disappear), of ancient Roman vestiges and of an entire village with its old church and cemetery.

Romanian political leaders have made ridiculous declarations lately: Socialist Prime-Minister Victor Ponta said that in his capacity as an MP, he will vote against the project (although he was the one who sent the law to the Parliament!), while centre-right President Traian Basescu, a well-know supporter of the project, claimed he will have to be neutral in this issue mentioning he might call for a referendum in 2014.

During the last 10 years, Romania has faced the most aggressive media campaign initiated by RMGC in order to convince Romanians that the project will bring only benefits such as $4 billion to the country’s budget, wealth for the region, thousands of jobs for the local population, all with no harm to the environment or the historic patrimony. An important percentage of the Romanian media (television and newspapers) survived the crises also with the help of RMGC and its thousands of TV spots and newspaper adverts. Thus, the first day of protests was boycotted by the main news channels (with one exception, Digi 24); when they reacted, they gave false figures and diminished the importance of the event. People continued to go in the streets in the next days and international media started reporting, Romanian media had short live news from the square. Some TV stations organized debates with the aim to put RMGC and the project in a positive light (hence, their adverts continued to be broadcasted even in the breaks of these TV shows).  Sadly or not, whoever wants to stay informed these days in Romania has to make use only of Facebook and Youtube, to find and follow free(lance) journalists and photographers that share their work and opinions.

The “Save Roşia Montana” movement was kept alive for years by a small number of well-intentioned people. As a result of their continuous fight and with the ‘contribution’ of the Romanian government, today we can see on the streets of Bucharest the most authentic protest this country has seen since May-June 1990, when thousands gathered for over one month against the political class dominated by the so-called ‘neo-communists’, that in the end led (and are still leading) the country.

One must understand that Romanians do not yet have a well-developed civic sense, a big number of the protests in this country are not spontaneous, however they are organized by people/organizations with certain interests, bringing participants with buses, motivating them by different means to be present and to shout for a certain cause.

Therefore, when passing through the people on the streets of Bucharest this week, one can meet the most diverse audience imaginable: ecologists, football hooligans, university professors, engineers, hipsters, nationalists, corporatists, students, anti-capitalists, families with children, retired people, etc. Each evening they manage to block a different main boulevard of the city and shout for their cause. Sunday, September 8th, thousands marched all over Romania and abroad, showing their support for the “Save Roşia Montana” campaign. More than 15.000 blocked Bucharest and marched for nearly 8 km along the city, ending up by occupying, once again, the main square of the city, the symbol of democracy and freedom of speech – Piaţa Universităţii/University square.

The protest is as peaceful as it could be. This protest is sincere, fearless and with no hatred involved (as it usually occurs in any manifestation against something or someone). People use irony and humor as their main weapon. Artistic expression is at its best.

People in the streets are innovative, thousands of plastic bottles filled with coins are used to make noise; whistles, drums or trumpets are also present. A good vibe is spread all around.

Although it is blamed by some analysts to be an anti-corporation movement, honestly it is about true democracy and respecting rule of law principles, fighting for dignity or the State (that did not manage to negotiate properly the contract) and of its citizens who deserve to have their rights respected. And for most people marching, it is not anymore about the mining project; they are fed up with the corrupt system and politicians, the biased media and the lack of transparency.

Never in my life did I feel so proud of my co-nationals. We may have the first generation that stopped dreaming of migrating to a better place and started fighting for its rights. And that is why I say it is a big step towards democracy and the developing and establishing of a real civic sense among the young generation.

Our society is very close to a real change: overcoming the fear of getting involved and expressing your sincere beliefs!

Update: The two leaders of the governing coalition – Crin Antonescu, President of the Senate and Victor Ponta. Romania’s Prime-Minister, declared today (Monday, September 9) that the Roşia Montana project has to be stopped and that they are waiting for the negative vote of the two chambers of the Parliament. At the Toronto stock exchange the shares of Gabriel Resources dropped by over 60% today and the company announced that it is taking into consideration a lawsuit against the Romanian Government.

In spite of these very recent developments, protesters will most probably continue demonstrating until a final decision will be taken.

Videos:

day 1, Sunday, September 1:

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day 3, Tuesday, September 3:

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day 8, Sunday September 8:

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Gallery: