Rosia Montana: Romania Rising Liviu Florin Albei
Protest ''Salvati Rosia Montana''

In Romania, there is a village who sits on a golden treasure, probably the largest in Europe, because there are literally hundreds of tones. The Romanian Parliament is preparing to approve the Rosia Montana project allowing a Canadian company to build Europe’s biggest gold mine. However, the economic opportunity is based on an environmental disaster. By using toxic cyanide to mine the gold, Rosia Montanta a historic area with chances to be included in the UNESCO list, will turn into a ruin. These controversial paths of the project brought in Romania the most significant protests since the fall of communism.

Kai Brand Jacobsen, Canadian-Norwegian-British by background, and now ‘adopted’ by Romania share his position on the project:

Q: I see that you are very engaged now on the issue of Roşia Montană. Tell me, what’s your opinion about what’s happening right now with Roşia Montană?

I think at this point it’s essentially about two issues: a community’s, and a people’s demand for dignity, and to be treated with respect; and a country and people around the world standing up for the environment. To tell you the truth – what’s happening now in Roşia Montană and across Romania is beautiful. In Bucharest, Cluj, Timisoara, Iasi, Baia Mara and cities, towns and villages across the country, citizens of Romania are getting involved and standing up for their country, for themselves, and for each other. People are taking part in demonstrations, celebrations, concerts, workshops, writing articles, discussing and sharing together. There’s a new energy, a new spirit to the engagement. What you feel everywhere is a sense of commitment, a sense of solidarity, and most of all a sense of hope and confidence. And they’re not alone. There have also been solidarity demonstrations and events all across Europe and around the world, and many politicians across the EU are stating their concerns and opposition to the RMGC project.

What’s happening now in Roşia Montană, in Romania, is at it’s heart about the fundamental desire of people in Romania to have good governance, to hold politicians accountable, and to do away with decades of abuse, corruption, bad governance and broken promises. It’s also a sign of change. People aren’t simply complaining anymore. They’ve gone beyond pessimism and cynicism, and are instead asking and discovering themselves what they can do and how they can get involved.

It’s about all Romanians – every grandparent, every entrepreneur, artist, student, worker, teacher, doctor, journalist and even every politician…about every citizen in this country, asking ourselves: what type of country do we want to live in? How do we want to be treated and to treat each other? What do we want for the future of our country?

Good governance, environmental protection, and economic development don’t just happen, especially in a context of often substantial corruption and bad or misgovernment. But they can happen, from people becoming involved, standing up for what’s important, and being part of shaping what they want for the future of their country. That’s what’s happening now in Roşia Montană and across Romania.

Q: What’s your position about this project, about people vs. politicians’ reactions?

I’m skeptical of the project. I’m not against mining. Anyone who uses computers, phones or other products would be hypocritical if they were to say they’re against all mining. I do, however, believe 1. That we need to dramatically improve the environmental standards of how mining is done; and 2. That when mining is implemented, the resources and profit should principally benefit the population of the area and the country. In the case of this project, I believe the track record of RMGC and Gabriel Resources Ltd. in Romania over the past 10+ years has involved too much dishonesty, lying to the Romanian population, manipulation and disinformation, and fuelling bad governance and corruption. I can understand and have profound sympathy for the many people and families in Roşia Montană who want the project. And this is the reality. Many families there do want the project. They want it because it promises them jobs, opportunities, and a better standard of life. I think this is a challenge we need to honestly engage and address. It’s also a challenge that affects much of Romania, particularly the countryside, and not just Roşia Montană. There is a profound need to develop a real, robust plan for improving standards of living, infrastructure, and social, cultural and economic, employment opportunities across Romania’s rural areas. The RMGC project though is not the answer. If a country with a responsible record, from Romania or internationally, and practicing good practice, sustainable mining techniques wants to engage in cooperation with the local population and national government, and with integrity and the highest standards, this should be supported. This company has not done that.

I don’t think though that it should be about ‘people’ vs. ‘politicians’. Politicians are elected by people. They are, or should be, the servants of the country, doing a service that should be honoured and respected. Today unfortunately that’s not always the case, though there are many wonderful politicians and public servants across the country that are doing their best. I think sometimes there are differences because people have different, legitimate points of view. It’s hard to see how to best address the challenges of economic development, overcoming poverty, creating jobs, and protecting the environment. When there are legitimate differences based on legitimate points of view, we need dialogue, mutual respect, and collaborative leadership. A reality today though is that too much of our political class is, effectively, corrupt, dishonest, abusive and incompetent, and does not act in the best interests of their constituents and the country.

Politics though isn’t just about voting. It’s about the life of the community, the country, what type of society we want, and the decisions and actions we take to create it. Today, real politics in Romania is happening in people’s lives, and in the streets and piatas of the country where these demonstrations are taking place.

Q: You followed the demonstrations. What do you think about Romanians’ protests? Are they doing it right?

What I saw on Sunday and in the lead up to the demonstration was powerfully inspiring. I think Romanians across the country and internationally, if they saw the demonstrations, spoke with those involved, take the time to know why people are coming out onto the streets – they would be proud. What we’re seeing now is a creative use of social media to mobilize and engage people. People across the country discussing and engaging their friends and colleagues. Coordinated efforts to reach out to and engage the media to provide better and proper, honest coverage and reporting of what’s taking place. In some areas we’re seeing musicians getting involved. On Sunday in Cluj you could see entire families, grandparents, people walking their dogs, pregnant mothers and parents with their babies. This is definitely a very good, and very beautiful way of protesting, because it’s a way that’s fundamentally built on creating a respectful, inclusive space where all the citizens of this country can take part. Together with this, workshops, discussions and events are being organized in many towns and cities across the country.

The dedication, commitment, courage and integrity of those who’ve been involved in the Save Roşia Montană campaign in Romania for more than 10 years now has been an inspiration to many across the country. As more and more people become involved in the coming days, I think it’s important to take the time for dialogues – to listen to people’s questions, concerns and their opinions, and talk to each other to engage more and more people. If we’re saying we want a better Romania, a Romania with good governance, with respect and dignity – we need to also manifest that in the way we’re engaging. For example, I think it would be wonderful to reach out to teachers and professors and encourage them to hold ‘dialogues’ and discussions in their classes, so that students and the new generations of Romanians are deeply thinking about and engaging on these issues. It would also be good for national media to hold public dialogues – respectfully – with those supporting and those opposing the project, and giving space for informed discussion so that people in the country can form their opinions.

I would also strongly encourage those engaged in the movement or those concerned with what’s happening in Roşia Montană to:

- be creative. What’s happening now in Romania is extraordinary and beautiful. This is a wonderfully creative country. Let’s use the arts, music, theatre, and creative forms of expression to reach out to and inspire people.

- use our government. Whatever we think about the government and political system in Romania, it should – it needs – to be there to serve us. Romanians all across the country should be speaking to their local city halls, elected authorities and prefectura to get them to oppose the project, and should be writing to their representatives in Bucharest and to their MEPs to state their opposition

- be visible. The demonstrations are important moments to come together and show an incredible democratic unity and engagement. It would also be great to stores to put up signs in support of Roşia Montană, to put posters and pictures in our windows, on our cars. Let’s encourage engagement and celebration of this incredible movement across the country.

In other demonstrations and democratic movements around the world we’ve also seen the importance of organizing workshops and training programmes which create a space to bring people together, create links, inspiration, and improve peoples skills for democratic organization and participation. Modeling what people want to see (as I wrote above) is also very important. If we’re saying we want to be treated with respect, we should treat others with respect, even if we don’t agree with their policies or approaches.

I can only respect and appreciate the engagement and dedication that we’re seeing across the country – and do all I can to engage and support it, as someone who considers Romania home, and believes in the beauty and potential of this country.

Q: I know that you’ve been involved in what’s happening with citizens’ risings in other countries like Turkey and Brazil. Can you compare this with what these things that are happening right now means for Romania?

I’m a firm believe in the importance of solidarity and learning from people’s movements and struggles around the world. What we’ve seen in Turkey and Brazil are expressions of the deep challenges and contradictions those countries are facing and going through right now – just as Roşia Montană is an expression of these in Romania. Some of the things we can learn from these movements – from both their success and challenges – include:

- generate hope and inspiration, and help people identify with what’s happening. People become involved when they feel there’s something worth becoming involved for.

- Unite people – don’t demonize. One of the major challenges in Turkey and Egypt today is the deep polarization and seeing anyone who doesn’t agree with you as an ‘enemy’ or ‘terrorist’. This often happens in Romania and around the issue of Roşia Montană as well, with insulting, demonizing or belittling those who don’t have the same opinion. I think Roşia Montană and Romania deserve and need better. We can stand up for what we believe in while treating every human being with dignity and respect.

- Fundamentally – it’s about coming up with real solutions to real challenges. Demonstrations can be sustained from a while. From days to weeks to even years. At the end of the day though – there are also significant, real challenges and contradictions facing the country. We need to find the way to mobilize the intelligence, capacity, and engagement of the people of Romania to address these. The politicians have shown for the last 20+ years that they can’t. At least not on their own. It’s also not only their job. It’s a job for all of us.

Like Brazil, Turkey and many other countries, what’s happening now in Romania is fundamentally about governance and how we, as a society, as human beings, want to live – to be treated and to treat each other. It also links with the global movements we’ve seen around Occupy over the past two years. This is an incredible moment in the world. In the face of economic crisis, of increasing gaps between the rich and poor, of escalation of wars and violence by a few countries, people – every day people – are saying they want something better. They’re rejecting pessimism and the message that there’s nothing they can do except surrender to the interests of corporations and abusive elites, and celebrating our amazing capacity as a species to create, to innovate, to solve problems. We can definitely compare – even if the situations in each country are quite distinct – and, more than that, we can learn from and support each other.

Q: What do you think Romanian people who are against RMGC project should do?

Stand up. Get involved. Raise your voices. Have the courage to take part. Join the demonstrations. And more than that – bring your neighbours, your friends, your colleagues. Especially that section of society that reads Boulevard, that travels to Greece and across Europe and internationally for holidays, that has relatively good jobs or believes in art, creativity, good cooking, design…come out and join the rest of your country! Harbouring hopes for a better future in our hearts and reading about it in magazines is wonderful. This is a time when you can do more and you should expect more from yourself. Harvey Milk, an amazing human being, campaigner and politician from the United States used to start every speech saying, “I’m here to recruit you”. What’s happening now, this moment, is here to ‘recruit’ every Romanian, everyone who lives in this country, to stand up, get involved, and allow yourself…for one moment, for a life time…to hope, and to be part of making something better.

 Q: In our first interview, you told me that you would like to see in Romania a movement of masses, with the entire population standing up and becoming involved for what they love. I would like to think that this is happening now. Not with all the people, but thousands. What do you think?

I agree. In part that’s exactly what’s happening now. This movement, this becoming involved, won’t happen just in one moment or one place or one issue. It will happen in thousands and thousands of moments across the country. It’s taking place in schools when teachers are doing their best to educate and inspire. It’s taking place every time a journalist sits down to really write about what’s happening in the country, and to inform and encourage people to take part. It happens when people are coming together, discussing, standing up for their rights, creating, making something better. At the heart of the movement around Roşia Montană isn’t just saying ‘no’ to what people oppose and reject – bad governance, corruption, an abusive company. No. At the heart of what’s happening today around Roşia Montană, across Romania, is an extraordinary, wonderful, inspiring yes! To hope. To self-confidence. To solidarity. To mutual respect. To knowing that it is possible to be the change, and to make what you really love and believe in come true. This is what’s happening today in Romania.

Thank you!

Note: Together with many thousands of others across the country Kai Brand-Jacobsen is involved in promoting and encouraging people to take part in a day of action and celebration on Sunday, September 8th. Events will be taking place all across Romania and around the world ( The aim is to bring more than 100.000 people out into the streets of Romania in a celebration of the country and in support of Roşia Montană. If you’re in a town, city or village where an event is happening come take part. If you don’t know of anything planned in your area, perhaps you can help to organize something.

Interview by Diana Campean, first published in Romanian on
Photo Credits:
Liviu Florin Albei via Flickr