"Save Rosia Montana": environmental cause meets civic dissatisfaction Danny Williams
"Save Rosia Montana"

The mining project for Rosia Montana

Following a governmental decision to support RMGC’s (Rosia Montana Gold Corporation) exploitation project at Rosia Montana - with the approval of a bill on August 27th - over 20,000 Romanian citizens have taken to the streets in an attempt to prevent the Parliament from passing the law on cyanide mining at Rosia Montana. Dissatisfied with the catastrophic consequences this project might bring about, Romanians have expressed their outrage and decided to actively participate in preventing the passing of the bill which would allow Gabriel Resources to use 200,000 tones of cyanide in exploiting gold (and other metals) in Rosia Montana. This figure represents ten times the total amount of cyanide used in Europe for mining.

Even though the Romanian Court of Justice gave a negative verdict with regard to the absence, on the part of the corporation, of the necessary documents which are mandatory for starting the project, local and national authorities have released replacement ones, thus transgressing the Court’s decision and undermining the rule of law.
Furthermore, it seems that the electoral promises, which guaranteed that the exploitation at Rosia Montana would not be given permission to start, have been ruthlessly broken. But Romanians are not willing to turn a blind-eye at the government’s attempts to manipulate public opinion.

The protests started at the beginning of September and continued throughout the month, with people opposing and demonstrating against the exploitation, in growing numbers, week after week. 

Media coverage and spreading the word

Despite numerous demonstrations that have taken place all over the country, the media proved reluctant in broadcasting this national movement which has inspired an increasing number of Romanians to fight for their right to express opposition against a project with a severe environmental impact. The protesters are disappointed with the attitude of mass media, which they accuse of ruthlessly supporting RMGC’s project, by broadcasting their commercials and minimizing the impact this project has (and will have) on the Romanian society.

Nevertheless, people have found a way to communicate and spread the word: by making use of social media. Several campaigns against the cyanide exploitation at Rosia Montana are gaining more and more sympathizers around the world, on Facebook and Twitter, and protests have also been replicated in some of the largest cities around Europe. Many bloggers have intensified their online activity and are promoting their articles concerning Rosia Montana, in order to inform people at large about the environmental impact of this project.

Students are fiercer than ever before in defending the values in which they strongly believe and are not willing to give up easily. Regardless of how much the media belittles their stance, the protesters remain firm in claiming that the insignificant number of workplaces Gold Corporation claims to offer to the people of Rosia Montana (2000 for the duration of the mining works and for a brief period thereafter), as well as the small profit the Romanian state would benefit from, are not worth the future irreparable damages inflicted upon the environment. 

An alternative project for Rosia Montana: tourism

The protesters support an alternative development project for Rosia Montana which would stem from tourism. Indeed, providing the people of Rosia Montana with a place to work during Gold Corporation’s project of exploitation is only a temporary and inefficient measure in the overall effort of reducing unemployment. This is precisely why Romanians are more confident in the touristic development as a means to provide the inhabitants with a more stable and permanent source of income. Being located in the Apuseni Mountains, the village of Rosia Montana is endowed with impressive scenery and fairy tale-like landscapes and thus, has great potential in attracting tourists. Furthermore, archaeologists have uncovered unique Roman settlements and cultural vestiges, which cannot be found anywhere else in Europe, and which will be endangered if the mining project is given a green light.

Gold Corporation's enterprise might have been perceived differently by the general public if the overall societal circumstances had differed. Truth be told, Romanians are fed up with the lack of transparency and the way in which public authorities prefer to look for a scapegoat instead of taking responsibility for their decisions. To put it differently, the whole negotiation process with Gold Corporation was kept out of the public eye, which is unacceptable, especially because it involves matters of national interest and the welfare of the Romanian population. This was likely to have been one of the most important factors responsible for triggering such a tempestuous attitude from the population: the fact that not only was the public will undermined, but that the people were also kept at bay when it came to disclosing detailed information about the project.

Calling on the Romanian Parliament

Most Romanian citizens consider that the Romanian government has incurred in many irregularities while supporting Gold Corporation’s investment. They fear that the rule of law is being ruthlessly undermined, not only by the corporation (which has no interest in beyond making as much profit as possible), but also by politicians, local and national authorities. In their fight for political power, some the political leaders have disregarded their electoral promises, changed their minds or simply decided to take one side or the other in the argument, consequently losing credibility.

Romanian President, Traian Basescu, seems to hold a more balanced position when it comes to this mining project and has not come down on one side of the fence or the other. Apparently, he intends to stay away from the public spotlight as much as possible, and this might turn out to be a wise decision after all, considering the protests which took place last year with outraged Romanians having demanded his resignation.

Romanians are determined to continue protesting until the Parliament votes against the project. They also demand a prohibition on cyanide-based exploitation in Romania, the acknowledgement of Rosia Montana as UNESCO world heritage site and the resignation of the officials who initiated the bill in support of Gold Corporation.

Several Members of Parliament have already claimed that they will vote against the bill, but citizens are still waiting for the Parliament to decide so as a whole.

Editor’s note:
Watch a similar story of a village called Geamana, that was one of the many victims of surface mining. This happened more than 20 years ago in Transilvania (Romania).

Edited by:
Margarida Hourmat
Photo credits: Danny Williams via Wikimedia Commons