September 2 protest in Bucharest against the exploitation of the Roşia Montana mine

Roşia Montana: Golden story poisoning the country

The Romanian government is drafting a law authorising operations using cyanide to explore the biggest gold mine in Europe. Despite the media blackout, protests against the draft law, which is highly favourable to the operating company, are spreading.

Published on 5 September 2013 at 16:16
September 2 protest in Bucharest against the exploitation of the Roşia Montana mine

There are political decisions so appalling that they manage to mobilise against them people who are otherwise light-years apart in terms of values and doctrine. In the winter of 2012, a draft reform of the health system succeeded in bringing out to the streets NGO activists, nationalists, anti-capitalists, ultras, environmentalists and feminists.

The draft bill on the mining of Roşia Montana approved by Romania’s government on August 27 has had the same effect. Evolving from a cause that had been mobilising primarily environmentalists till now, Roşia Montana has suddenly become a topic of wider interest. The scope of the protest movement that began on September 1 goes beyond the issue limited to the mining of Roşia Montana – and is now touching on the model of economic development, on how legislation is passed, on democracy itself.

The nationalist groups have been drawn into the streets by the traditional slogan "Do not sell our country!", liberals from the right by the violation of the limits of the rule of law and the principle of private property, and the anti-capitalists by privileges granted to corporations.

[[How did we get to this point, and what is it that has triggered this sudden mobilisation?]] First of all, a draft law enjoys a wider circulation than simple expert advice on technical matters. Roşia Montana Gold Corporation [RMGC, a joint venture between the Canadian company Gabriel Resources and the Romanian state company Minivest] sought to made a quick leap over bureaucratic hurdles. But haste makes waste: a bill permits a much wider mobilisation than the confidential orders of any minister.

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Powers of expropriation

As well, the provisions of the bill itself are likely to anger even those who are generally supportive of mining on Roşia Montana. Indeed, through this act, RMGC can be mandated by the state to carry out expropriation procedures – that is, it can expropriate the property of any resident refusing to sell it. A prerogative that, by definition, belongs to the state, is transferred with little reflection to a private company. It means that, just 45 days after it submits its demand, RMGC can become the owner of any building of the Romanian state that it needs to operate the mine. And, to add insult to injury for the rule of law, if a related project approval process is cancelled by the courts, the Romanian authorities must issue within 30 days a further approval to replace the cancelled approval.

[[The protest movement, which brought some 15,000 people out onto the streets of Bucharest and around the country, should be grounds for optimism]]. Since RMGC has pumped millions into news agencies, neatly tucking the channels into their pockets – the vast majority of them are in favour of the government’s bill – it is the stream of information on social networks that has facilitated the mobilisation. The silences of the TV channels, which during the protests broadcast news items on the hospitalisation of the King of the Roma, Iulian (B1TV) and the birth of a grandson of president Traian Băsescu (ProTV), have been eloquent.

‘Plagued by misinformation’

In this case, should we be surprised that most Romanians are in favour of the draft legislation on Roşia Montana? As if by chance, on the same day of the protest movements the press commissioned a poll from Sociopol showing that 70 percent of Romanians support the Roşia Montana project. Manipulation? Exaggeration? Does it matter? Is an opinion that comes from a background plagued by misinformation relevant? Also relevant, no doubt, is the fact that 99 percent of voters support the political leaders of authoritarian states that have no freedom of the press.

The presence in the streets of those who protested in 2012 should give food for thought to those still labouring under the "conspiracy theory". If these are the same people (who protested against a right-wing government), what is there to the allegation of “persons in the pay of the USL" [social-liberal union, the centre-left coalition in power in Bucharest] now that it is the USL in power? Who, then, brought the people out on the streets yesterday? The answer is simple: the entire political class.

It may be painful, unacceptable, scandalous for politicians and analysts, but we are witnessing the genesis of an unprecedented phenomenon in our post-revolutionary history (1989) – the constitution of a true opposition within civil society. A few thousand people cannot be compared to the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in France or Portugal, but by the standards of the Romanian society, swamped by a civic lethargy as it is, this is a great step forward.

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