Roşia Montană is a commune in the Apuseni Mountains in Romania. The area has been known since Roman times for its rich mineral resources which some say are the biggest in the EU today. In 1997 the Roşia Montană Gold Corporation (majority-owned by Canada’s Gabriel Resources Ltd. with an interesting history of its own) was born and received its concession license for the area, planning to open here the largest opencast gold mine in Europe. Since then, the company lost several justice trials concerning national and international legal and environmental standards, split the population of Roşia Montană in two groups, bribed the media, “influenced” the politicians and the public administration, saw its shares going up and down following presidential discourses or protest activities respectively. On the other side of the camp, some NGOs and a handful of locals advocated for the inclusion of Roşia Montană on the UNESCO World Heritage List, organized various activism movements (the Fân Fest music festival, “Adopt a house in Roşia Montană” program, writing letter to politicians, acting as watchdogs) and gathered signatures for a petition against the project. In fact, in the last 20 years this campaign was one of the largest over a non-political cause in Romania.
The controversy around Roşia Montană made it world known and turned it into a key point during election campaigns to the point that the current political leaders (including current prime-minister) won several votes on the basis of their declared opposition towards the project. Up until now these two unequal forces seemed to balance each other in a spectacular manner, giving birth to a close to insane struggle going on for more than a decade.
However, on August the 27th, during a session not publicly announced, the government made a decisive step, adopting a draft law granting national interest status to the gold mine project. A few days afterwards thousands of people (around 7000 in Bucharest on Sunday) took the streets of Romanian and foreign cities to protest against the passing of the draft legislation. Every day of the last week, people met in the evenings and walked between the University Square, the government building, or the Palace of the Parliament. Protests regarding Roşia Montană have made it across the international press, politicians at least apparently backed down and Gabriel shares dropped.
It is not the aim of this blog post neither to give facts and numbers about the project, nor to list the cons and pros (if any) of the Roşia Montană Gold Corporation project. I don’t intend to write about the 13000 tons of cyanide that would be employed per year, the four peaks of local mountains destroyed, the 500 billion mountain of sterile that would be left behind, the crater of 8 km of diameter, the 185m high dam that should last for an eternity, or the 880 jobs with a 16 year deadline (with no perspectives afterwards) the project is so generous to offer. The aim of this blog entry is to show what makes the recent demonstrations so important.
What does Roşia Montană mean to Romania?
Roşia Montană is the fight of a generation. But not of a generation defined by age and education, instead defined by common believes and values. It is a fight of those who inherently feel that laws should be respected, that the ones breaking the rules aren’t necessarily the winners, that democracy means rights, as well as obligations; of those who don’t look at corporations as their income providers, instead start questioning their functioning and ethics, regardless of their current jobs. Roşia Montană is the question mark of a generation. Through their slogans and placards, participants question the system, the choice of the type of development, the enactment of laws and the quality of the governance. These are the signs of a new morality awakening.
Roşia Montană is a learning process for Romanians. They are learning about social capital and how to hold the government accountable. It is like a democracy exercise through applied civism. Romanians are beginning to realize that it is up to them to build a better future and defend the rule of law. They are engaging with causes that go beyond their immediate realities. They are learning that social capital demands commitment, solidarity, confidence and trust. Roşia Montană shows the first bursts of solidarity within an often divided society.
Roşia Montană is a lesson for the Romanian political leaders. They learn accountability. Some said protesters were elusive when it came to formulating clear demands, sometimes eccentric or that only young people joined the protests. Others said the crowd was very heterogeneous. Nevertheless, beyond inconsistencies, clumsiness and misleading information it was a valid attempt to make political leaders accountable, denounce corruption and shape the relationship between society and the political class for years to come.
Roşia Montană is the reconfirmation of a model. We can use this case-study to bring once again to light, the modus operandi of many large scale businesses. In a context where politicians and media institutions don’t do their jobs, corporations act almost symptomatically: spreading discord among locals, encouraging conflicts and abuses, involving lots of money in the process, displaying a remarkable dose of arrogance and disrespect, while everything summed up usually leads to unconstitutionality and the undermining of the rule of law.
Roşia Montană is a step forward towards a model of success for environmental activists. The aggregation of Romanian environmental NGOs which was proved by the amplitude of their campaigns, marks a (maturity) stage in the evolution of the Romanian civil society. It demonstrates how civil society can create the conditions for change towards a desirable path, as civil society is not (theoretically) hampered by mandates or limited competences like governments and state institutions are.
Finally, Roşia Montană is another example of an internet led movement since almost none of the main TV stations covered the story and participants organized themselves via facebook.
In the end, here is an Avaaz Petition to stop the mining project. There are numerous other Romanian petitions, one of the most successful among them being this one. This Sunday the 8th of September Romanians are getting ready to demonstrate again.
Ideas expressed in this post are not original. For writing this post I read around 20 journal articles and many facebook comments. I was also inspired by two of my colleagues. To paste all links here would be too space consuming and most of them are in Romanian, but there are also English, German and French articles. Here are only a couple of them.