The “Save Rosia Montana” protest of Romanians against an abusive and environmentally-disastrous gold mining project in the Carpathian Mountains has entered its second month. Organized, disciplined, and refusing to give up in spite of an enormous and expensive PR campaign led by the mining company, a small percentage of Romanians at home and many more abroad have been taking to the streets for six weekends in a row. In the first half of September, they had daily marches and protests, always setup to take place after regular working hours. Mass media in Romania pays only limited attention to the movement, with most TV stations in the country allotting rather limited air time to the protesters and their demands for the ban of highly destructive cyanide-based gold mining in the mountains of Transylvania. Some of the major media outlets are, of course, beneficiaries of paid ads supporting the Rosia Montana Gold Corporation and Gabriel Resources, Ltd, a Canadian group behind that has been given absolute and unlimited mining rights by the corrupt social-democratic government of Romania and its prime-minister, Victor Ponta. With or without the help of the mass media in their country, the organizers in the country have done a great job at making their message heard loud and clear nationally and internationally. Under slogans such as “Save Rosia Montana!” and “United We Save!” the movement has drawn attention all over the world.
Beside its overt ecological message, Save Rosia Montana became the platform for a number of other socio-political messages and meanings extremely important for the development of Romania’s civil society and that of national civic spirit. The movements and protests that accompany the Rosia Montana are gathered under the name Romania Rising.
A number of international mass media reports and commentaries have dubbed the uprising Romania’s Autumn, noticing the ideological similarities between the Arab Spring, and the Turkish Summer. A recent article in the English edition of the German daily Der Spiegel, for instance, quotes one of the leaders of the movement who puts the Save Rosia Montana movement in the same line of social uprisings that shook South Eastern Europe this year, from Turkey to Bulgaria and now to Romania. A movement that signals a crisis larger than that of Romania’s corrupt government and inept political class, but of global corporate capitalism in which people’s voices have been ignored and then muted under legislation passed by governments and parliaments who serve the interests of those who can sponsor their campaigns rather than the interests of those who they ostensibly represent.
Thus, the Romanian uprising is part and parcel of social awakenings that go as far back as the Occupy Wall Street Movement. In Romania there is, indeed, a sense that something’s got to give or the country will slide into financial, political, social and moral collapse and ruin. Luckily, it looks like the civil society is finally functional and ready to take charge. Romanians seem to be prepared now to govern instead of simply being governed and they seem to understand that democracy does really mean the power of the people. In a world dominated by despair and failure of democratic values and institutions, where even the United States Congress is at the mercy of political and personal conflict that take primacy over the good of the people, where radical religious groups are democratically voted into power only to paradoxically be allowed to deny pillars of democracy such as basic human rights, the idea that democracy might still have a chance to be what was intended to be at the dawn of its modern existence, may sound naïve. It is, however, Romania, with its unique history of ideological abuse and totalitarianism even within the former Soviet bloc of Eastern Europe, where the post-socialist political class has been closely perceived as the continuator of the corrupt practices of the ancien régime. Rather than being disenchanted with democracy as a concept and political system, Romanians are disenchanted with the politicians and somehow managed to keep alive the belief that once those politicians who are still tributaries to old practices such as bribery, embezzlement, abuse of power, and nepotism will be wiped out from the political stage, Romania will heal and finally engage on the path of a healthy and democratic society.
And, in the case of Romania, that may still be true. In one of my past articles on this weblog, published on August 14, 2013, and entitled A Passion for Masochism and Trauma: Romania’s (G)PTSD, I argued that the people of post-socialist Romania had such difficulties finding themselves as a nation and organize themselves as a fully operating civil society precisely because of the unique harshness of the ideological rape they were subjected to under Nicolae Ceausescu’s dictatorship. And it was not the abuse alone that delayed Romania’s ability to function as a normal society, but also the fact that, instead of perceiving the fall of dictatorship as liberation, they perceived it as loss. In classical manner of victims of abuse and rape, Romanians identified (as a group) with their abuser, Ceausescu and his personal dictatorship system. As a consequence, the disappearance of the regime’s figure head threw the nation into an aimless identity drifting. I argued in my August article that for the past 23 years Romanians displayed the tell-tale signs of coping with loss and grief similar to those identified by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in 1969, and also suffered from (Group) Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, showing not only nostalgia and melancholy for the times of the dictatorship (as it is the case with other former Communist nations), but also actively demanding at times the restoration of the abusive regime.
Signs of societal healing became evident around 2011 when small pockets of population, mostly young, urban and educated began showing inclinations toward protest and social involvement. That is also the year when the Rosia Montana movement became more visible and organized the first protests. As of 2012, more and more Romanians started to volunteer for various social causes, an obvious sign of social and civic engagement. Finally, a more pronounced national pride also started to take shape, and groups focused on Romania’s rich historical heritage, traditions and culture mushroomed on social media outlets. Europe’s “ugly duckling” of the 1990s, the people at the outskirts of Europe who were told by everyone in the international arena that they were not “good enough” and they not only believed it but adopted it as their own, are now marching to save a spot of nature in their country, waving banners that read “Proud to be Romanian.” The gathering of isolated individuals blindly engaged in solitary paths of self-fulfillment that represented the Romanian nation until roughly 2010 began to coagulate slowly and form groups animated by common ideals dedicated to the community. Save Rosia Montana is so far the most prominent and the best organized of those ideals.
Related or not with the general revolutionary movement that is now shaking the world, Romanians have also been marching under banners asking for democracy based on meritocracy. In other words, we delegate you to represent us only if you proved that you are worthy of our trust through your own merits. No corporate sponsorships, no fancy posters and loud campaigns paid for with dirty money, but only you, your education, and your experience will convince us. And as this year Confucius’s birth has been calculated to be on October 1st, I think that the streets of Bucharest and other cities in Romania represented the best way to honor the teachings of the ancient Chinese philosopher. For what better way to celebrate the man who believed in good governance and in leadership by example, in the value of knowledge, study and education than the people demanding democracy through meritocracy?