IBNA/ Interview: Environmental protests in Romania: politicians will have to bear the consequences of their decisions

IBNA/ Interview: Environmental protests in Romania: politicians will have to bear the consequences of their decisions


By Daniel Stroe – Bucharest

Since September, Romania has been the stage of large scale protests against a controversial cyanide based gold mining project at Rosia Montana, a site where mining dates back to ancient times. The manifestations took a wider turn after authorities in Bucharest approved the first shale gas explorations. IBNA spoke to Silviu Dancu, a writer and one of the leading voices among the protesters, to find out what motivated those who took to the streets in what appear to be the largest environmental protests ever in Romania.

Are the anti-Rosia Montana purely environmental protests or have they changed in time in protests against the politics?

I would say they have never been strictly environmental! And neither are they now! Let’s not forget the fight against the gold mining project didn’t start in the street, in 2013, but in 2002, with the help of specialists in architecture, patrimony, environment and other NGOs. It all started with conferences, petitions or trials (in many cases won) through which the Alburnus Maior Association stopped, even if partially, a private company from brutally and definitely abusing a community, a region and a segment of history. Therefore, this is not about environment only, even though TV stations only speak only about the cyanide lake.

The critics brought to the minister of Culture shows this is also a fight over the cultural, archaeological and architectural patrimony of the region and Romania’s at the same time. Then, there’s also the issue of private property, people in the region being threat with expropriation. Let’s not forget the episode when Eugen David, the initiator of this resistance movement, was labeled “Bolshevik” by President Basescu for refusing to give up on his property. It is the first time I hear someone being called a “Bolshevik” for fighting for his right to property!

But the most important (and here I am expressing my own point of view and the main reason why myself take to the street) is law and legality. In different words, it is about criticizing and contesting the manner in which the government dared submit a draft law which basically is against other laws already in force and the Constitution itself. This draft law has clearly shown the frightening distance between politicians and citizens, the ways laws are crafted and voted, either lacking transparency or in an open and defying manner, without being submitted to dialogue and public debate, as it is normal.

Therefore, the protests are not against politics as a whole, not against USL (the ruling coalition) or PDL (the main opposition party) or other parties, but against the manner in which politics is done in Romania. I have not heard about institutions such as the government or the parliament being contested in the street or someone calling for parties to be dissolved. They only asked for politicians, regardless of their political color, to work for the benefit of citizens they represent and not in any way, but in the spirit and the letter of laws. They are calling for the immediate responsibilization of politicians. For now, we only see politicians striving to amend or make up laws to reach their interests, most of the times obscure, but pompously and groundlessly labeled as being for “special national interest”.

How do you answer those who come up with economic arguments to bolster the cause of the Rosia Montana gold mining project and the shale gas production?

From my point of view, both the Rosia Montana and the shale gas projects are not legal because in both cases we deal with the politics’ lack of transparency concerning national interest projects. As concerns economic arguments, I can say little on this and not because I am not an economist, but because I have developed a distrust in what I read in the media which I find infested with advertising from the “incriminated” companies and subordinated to politics. What I can say is that all the economic arguments reek of propaganda.

What I would answer those who bring economic arguments in the discussion – either we are talking about Rosia Montana or the shale gas – is the economic arguments are as important as the social, cultural and historic arguments, that the mere contextual profit cannot be more important than the long term effects, if not irreversible, that these investments can have. Vital resources, such as water, soil, woods cannot be disregarded against gold or natural gas and because of an environmental scruple, but because of a pragmatic economic and long term calculation. The same with the cultural patrimony! To agree with dynamiting of thousands of Roman galleries and accept only a small portion of the oldest mine in the world to be left standing is unacceptable to me.

How should then politicians approach the two files – Rosia Montana and the shale gas – in relation to the public? Are the anti-Rosia Montana and the shale gas protests the result of a lack of communication between the authorities and the ordinary citizens or are we looking at the population becoming more aware of the environment related issues and, consequently, its desire to be consulted in such issues which directly or indirectly concern their lives?

I would say both. As I said before, the political class is extremely autistic, if not defying and I dare say indifferent to laws. Not only authorities fail to communicate their short, medium and long term projects to citizens, but also ask them to fully obey the decisions by invoking laws and labeling opinions, dissatisfaction and their practical expression as anarchy! But anarchy is in fact among politicians who jam the clear message of the rule of law and mime observing the rules of a democratic system. But I think the population is becoming more aware of these abuses. I underlined, I do not know if the people in Pungesti (a village where shale gas explorations are set to start), Birlad (a town near the shale gas exploration fields) and Rosia Montana protest for environmental reasons. I would say they protect their properties, a way of living and even their dignity. And they have started seeing the arrogance of politics is breaking the very concept of law and legality. But the environmental reasons are becoming more and more important just because they provide arguments against manipulations in a legitimate and rigorous manner.

Shall we expect more protests, on a national level, if the Rosia Montana project is supported by the Parliament and the shale gas explorations start?

The draft law on Rosia Montana (currently debated in the Parliament) doesn’t seem to be a major problem anymore. It no longer raises sympathy in the Parliament because it has been compromised by protests. But we have reasons to believe it will be submitted in pieces and masked under different forms and wordings by means of other draft laws. From my point of view, as long as the Ministry of Culture blocks including Rosia Montana on the UNESCO heritage list there is no proof of good intentions of politicians, but on the contrary.

Therefore, yes, there is the possibility of even larger protests. I would recommend politicians not to count on the apparent state of tiredness protests have shown lately. Since, as they expect people to give up so do people expect them to make a decision. And when they decide they will have to bear the consequences of their decision.

In case of a social explosion, if the above mentioned scenarios come true, do you think this tension in the streets should be capitalized on electorally in the form of a new political movement which shall resist the current establishment?

As far as I am concerned, I do not see the settlement of a new political party as a solution, if the democratic game is merely mimed and not exerted with respect for the laws. But I too believe a real nucleus of a strong, dynamic and contemporary society will be formed which shall penalize the abuses of politics. Personally, I am not troubled by the fact the same parties continue to exist, just as I am not troubled we have to deal with the same politicians. But this only if they start signaling they will give up the autism and arrogance they have shown so far! And this can only be seen when some politicians resign or will be dismissed or will be held responsible before the law.

I also believe the civil society will become more vocal, stronger and more respected, will be able to monitor, punish and correct the politics’ abuses. I think it can and will be able to provide technical, legal, social and moral arguments so politics becomes eventually one of the essential instruments of the rule of law which it will truly represent and not only verbally when, in reality, it sabotages it.