For eight consecutive days, people in Romania have been protesting a planned mining project in Rosia Montana, a mountain village in the West of the country. The demonstrations are directed against threatened environmental destruction, but the protests also express distrust of the government, of parties, and of the political establishment in general. There is already talk of a “Romanian Autumn”. The worldwide struggle against corporate domination and political collusion has opened a new front.
The mining project plans are almost ancient by now, but have recently been entering into a new phase. Gabriel Resources, which owns the vast majority of the Rosia Montana Gold Corporation, already acquired its mining licence back in 1999, but has since been waiting for a permit from the environmental ministry to go ahead with its plans. 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, according to The Guardian, over 100 villagers “are determined to stay. Supported by environmentalists, architects and lawyers, the villagers’ NGO has been battling the corporation and state authorities in courts.” Their tireless actions eventually helped trigger a movement.
There is much at stake. According to RT, “Gabriel Resources Ltd plans to 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 of 16 in the municipality. But the biggest 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 a law last week a that would endow Gabriel Resources with extraordinary powers, including the right to expropriate residents of Rosia Monta. Apparently it was a new version of a law that had been suggested back in 2011 — an initiative that already led to Occupy-style protests back then. The current law is being proposed by a Social Democratic government, even though, while in opposition, that same party had declared itself to be against the project. This flip-flopping added to the existing environmental indignation a sense of disgust against the political establishment as such. It is the familiar mix of anti-corporate sentiment and rejection of politics-as-usual that we have been seeing in country after country.
On Sunday, September 1, people demonstrated in several cities. The next day, at least a thousand protesters gathered in 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 September 3, similar numbers, similar scenes. And so it went. On September 8, there was a day of action with 15,000 people taking to the streets: 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 to the country. Alis Anagnostakis describes the anti-mining movement as follows: “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.” The Occupy-like language, with its infectious enthusiasm, is striking a resonant chord. 15,000 protesters may not yet be a “whole generation”, but it is a most encouraging sign that more revolutionary times may be ahead. Moreover, the movement is changing 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 focusing more on that each of us can do to make things 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 a collective struggle is already a victory in and of itself, no matter what the outcome of the battle against the mining project will be. In this sense, at least, the worldwide revolt that began in 2011 only keeps on spreading around the globe. To Romania, for instance.