Not many people have noticed that there has been a lot of public commotion in one corner of Europe. For well over a month, Romania has been boiling with protests, marches and demonstrations. Tens of thousands of Romanians have taken to the streets almost every day since the beginning of September to show their discontent towards the proposed gold mining project at Roșia Montana, a potential ecological bomb at the heart of Europe (you can read more about it in my previous article).
One of the reasons these demonstrations have remained under the Western media's radar is the fact that they are peaceful. Huge rallies happened in each major Romanian city every single Sunday with no major incident being recorded. This is very surprising given the ever-growing numbers of protesters (varying between 10,000 and 20,000 each demonstration in Bucharest alone) and the level of emotions which leaps out of every facebook feed, every blog post and every tweet.
Another fact which sets these demonstrations apart is their diversity of representation and manifestation. They have involved Romanians from all walks of life and took the most surprising and creative forms of expression as well. Young and old, parents pushing children in prams, cyclists, dancers, artists, skydivers, scuba divers, mountain climbers, human chain around the Romanian Parliament building...they all have joined the fight against the Roșia Montana mining project.
But if peaceful and diverse demonstrations are nothing new, there is another reason why this movement breaks the mould of a classic protest. What makes this phenomenon even more innovative and unique is its worldwide manifestation. Romanians from all corners of the world have been getting together in small and large groups for the last seven Sundays to be part of the movement already coined Global Roșia Montana Days. Each week more international locations have been added to reach well over 50 international cities (see images from London, Berlin, Paris, Munchen, Dublin, Toronto and the list can continue). Due to the shortage of media coverage, the Romanians have turned to social media channels to put their opinion across and to build their worldwide network of protests. So far it has worked well given the steadfast growth of the Roșia Montana movement.
The last time the hearts of so many Romanians scattered around the world had the same unison beat with the ones living at home was the 1989 Revolution when the communist regime was overthrown. 'Save Roșia Montana' is now believed to be the largest civic movement among Romanians in the last twenty-four years. It took everyone by surprise given that the Romanian society is usually apathetic, indifferent and resigned vis-a-vis a political class who rules the country in a no-accountability manner. Their leadership style has become even more evident in the light of the Roșia Montana project. As a consequence, the Save Roșia Montana movement is outgrowing its initial narrow remit of protecting nature and heritage. It is now about defending democratic values as well.
Romanian democracy has gradually matured over the last twenty-four years undergoing its natural course of development. In the 1990s, when it was in its infancy, voters believed everything politicians said. It also had its toddler tantrum stage when dissatisfaction with any policy change would spark successive violent public interventions of miners. A few years later, at the beginning of the millennium, it went through its adolescent stage when many Romanians rebelled and left home, millions emigrating abroad in search of a better life and future. Since 2007 when the country joined the European Union, Romanians have learned the true democratic values from older European peers. Now Romanians both from abroad and at home recognize that they need to defend what belongs de facto to them: Romania.
Romanian civil society is more mature, more responsible and more importantly cannot any longer be bought only by words and promises. It is time for the political class to mature as well and lead a dialogue on an equal footing with the civil society.
So far, there has been little evidence that the political leaders are indeed taking into account the voice of the street. Their indifference is mirrored by the disinterest of the main media outlets in covering the demonstrations. The way the Romanian politicians and media have reacted to the ever-growing campaign to save Roșia Montana is symptomatic of the problems with the Romanian democracy. The civil society has been long aware of poor governance, political decisions based on individual profit, lack of transparency, disregard for the public opinion, low journalistic standards, etc. However, with the Roșia Montana campaign, these shortcomings have been exacerbated, as if projected through a magnifying glass. It is precisely these shortcomings which have frustrated millions of Romanians who have chosen to live abroad having seen no immediate prospect for a change. But Roșia Montana campaign might just be able to spark again the long-abandoned hope of a nation who wants a better future for itself. A banner from one of the demonstrations said: 'We want to emigrate to the Romania which we are now starting to build'. Getting involved in the 'Save Roșia Montana' campaign is the Romanian diaspora's symbolic homecoming.