Since the beginning of this month, tens of thousands of Romanians have been regularly protesting plans to destroy four of the country's mountains. The Transylvanian region of Roșia Montană, where the mountains are situated, is rich in gold and silver...
Since the beginning of this month, tens of thousands of Romanians have been regularly protesting plans to destroy four of the country's mountains. The Transylvanian region of Roșia Montană, where the mountains are situated, is rich in gold and silver, which unfortunately means that the people who make their money in precious metals want to raze the area to the ground, destroying the first documented human settlement in the country (which dates back to 131 BC) and over four miles of subterranean Roman galleries in the process.
The original plans to obliterate the mountain range were actually conceived over 15 years ago, but it was only this August that the Romanian government passed a bill in favor of Canadian-owned mining company Roșia Montană Gold Corporation (RMGC)—also known for their mad corpse-trafficking skills—using cyanide to extract 314 tons of gold and 1,500 tons of silver from the ore below the mountains.
Parliament is scheduled to vote on the matter on September 17 and, in the event that the proposal is approved, the operation is due to begin in 2016, demolishing three villages along the way. In case the prospect of rich people making an extra buck out of expropriating hundreds of families with the use of highly poisonous chemicals wasn't depressing enough, it's not even like Romania as a whole is going to benefit much from the deal.
As it stands, the project will produce just 200 jobs for locals, the country will only be paid 6 percent of the value of the gold and silver extracted, and the chemicals used to extract gold from the ore will produce 214 million cubic meters of toxic cyanide waste.
None of this is good news, which is maybe why it's been met with such overwhelming opposition from the Romanian public. Around 2,000 protesters have been meeting daily at Regina Elisabeta, one of Bucharest's main shopping boulevards, to demonstrate against RMCG's plans, and numbers often spike on the weekends, with more than 8,000 people gathering in the capital last Sunday. The protesters are also gathering support from environmentalists all over the world, from Germany and London, to Moldova and Turkey.
The tenth day of protests, with over 15,000 people marching in Bucharest.
Compared to the severity of the situation, however, the protests have been some of the most peaceful public actions I've ever participated in. The rowdiest it gets is when demonstrators fill plastic bottles with coins or pebbles and bang them against the asphalt to accompany those who've brought along bongos or pots and pans. Then, of course, there was the time a string quartet turned up to serenade the hushed, appreciative crowd, which seemed a little at odds with the footage I've seen this year from other protests around the globe.
The first few days of the protests were largely ignored by the mainstream Romanian media, which isn't particularly surprising, given the fact that RMCG has taken out ads on the majority of TV stations. Anyone who did decide to cover the demonstrations was quick to dismiss them by labeling everyone in attendance "hipsters"—presumably either a misguided stab at demonstrating how they're still totally in touch with the youth audience, or an embarrassing mixup with the word hippie.
Extraordinarily, on the political front most MPs have begun to have a change of heart since the opposition made itself known. President Traian Băsescu, one of the main supporters of the project, is now claiming neutrality, and Prime Minister Victor Ponta—the man who approved the plans in the first place—has said that he will vote against the project as a member of parliament. Then again, right after winning last year's elections, he pledged that he wouldn't authorize the project, so we maybe shouldn't take him at his word.
Regardless of what the country's leaders say, the protests are still going strong and spirits are high. For the moment, there's every hope that our mountains will remain intact for much longer than RMCG want them to.
More stories from Romania: