Can Europe Make It?

Romanian spring or Carpathian autumn?

After more than a decade, the fight to save Rosia Montana has entered its final phase. It would be an incredible lack of responsibility if the government and parliament went forward with the mining project.

Mihai Gotiu
11 September 2013

Thousands take to the streets of Bucharest, September 2013. Demotix/Reporter#31555. All rights reserved.

20 August 2013

The Romanian Parliament's committee for UNESCO, along with the Minister of Culture Daniel Barbu, arrive in Rosia Montana, ostensibly to collect information on the proposed mining plans for the area. The opposition, and a few independent journalists (well, about three) have recorded and distributed online the highlights of this visit, which show clearly how the entire visit has been directed by Rosia Montana Gold Corporation, for the purposes of propaganda in their favour.

Committee members refused to meet with representatives of the local opposition, while experts of cultural heritage, who have monitored Rosia Montana for many years, were not invited. In the midst of this a local resident, Sanda Lungu is filmed "telling" a journalist that she is "fucking the owl" (a Romanian expression meaning "doing nothing", "wasting time"), the clip of which becomes a hit on Romanian websites.

The lady who is "fucking the owl"

Sanda Lungu is a local resident from Rosia Montana transformed into a media star by the Gold Corporation through seemingly endless broadcasts of an interview she had done in support of the mining project. In the interview, Sanda Lungu is seen complaining, although she has tried all sorts of jobs, including crocheting socks, that she has no way of supporting her children, which is why she is waiting for the mining project to start - so she can get a job there.

More than the dirty language, what angered people the most was the lie that "thousands of jobs" would be created for "locals in the area". In fact, the number of jobs is more likely to be in the hundreds, and they are not destined to those who, indeed, would need them in the local area. Most locals who "support the project" are just a publicity screen whose real job on the payroll of the company is to "fuck the owl".

As it happened, the visit of the UNESCO committee, and the hubbub around Sanda Lungu, came just two days after FanFest, the largest cultural and social festival and forum in Romania, which had drawn over six thousand of civil society's most active and informed persons to Rosia Montana. At this moment, the intrigue surrounding Rosia Montana could not have been higher.

27 August 2013

The Romanian government announces the approval of a special law, allowing Gold Corporation to forcefully expropriate property in Rosia Montana and ignore any oppositional court orders, and sends it to Parliament. The first facebook group announcing a mobilization of forces in Bucharest against the Rosia Montana protests was made just a few hours later. This was followed the next morning by facebook groups regarding other Romanian cities, and abroad. One day before the day of protests (1 September), Rise Project - an investigative journalism outfit - published the act giving Gold Corporation exploitation and expropriation rights for Rosia Montana (one of the most closely "guarded" documents of the affair).

1 September 2013

Over 20,000 people have flooded the streets of Bucharest, Cluj and other cities and towns. A week of contradictory statements by politicians, including Victor Ponta (who as Prime Minister supports the project, but as a deputy voted against it), as well as new documents surfacing (including a Ministry of Justice report disparaging the bill, and yet ignored by the government) had added fuel to the flames.

Furthermore, old documents exposing the corruption surrounding the Rosia Montana case, which had been ignored by the mainstream media, began circulating online. The media blockade imposed on the press by Gold Corporation, who had "invested" tens of millions of dollars on "publicity", was being swiftly undermined. A week later, the protests had doubled in size. "Official" media gave figures that day of 10,000 protesters in Bucharest and 6,000 in Cluj. Photos and videos from the scene suggest perhaps double that.

A little history

From the very first day, the Rosia Montana case started with a big lie: the so-called auction. On 5 September 1995, the state-owned company Regia Autonoma a Cuprului Deva (later called Minvest) announced that it was interested in forming a partnership with a foreign company for exploiting precious metal deposits in Rosia Montana.

According to the announcement, offers could be made in the next 30 days. As it was proven later, the contract between Gabriel Resources and RAC Deva had already been signed, making the "30 days" pronouncement effectively fraudulent.

The lies and deceit continued. Apuseni Mountain deposits were suddenly, spuriously, listed on the stock exchange, propaganda about "thousands of jobs" was promulgated, there were claims that the cyanide used in the mining was "harmless", documents were falsified or dismissed (especially the lugubrious impact assessments made by the Ministry for the Environment), annoying court orders were breached and politicians from all levels were mysteriously "won over" by Gold Corporation.

The emergence of resistance

Enough was enough. The blatant corruption and misinformation led to an unprecedented civic mobilisation in Romania. In 2000, the Alburnus Maior association was created by Rosia Montana residents to defend their rights. Two years later, they were joined by a loose-knit collection of environmental, cultural and civil rights groups, all united under the "Save Rosia Montana" banner.

By 2012, the group had grown to an extraordinary coalition of professors, artists, members of the Romanian Academy, environmental activists, religious figures, atheists, Romanians, Hungarians, football fans and even employees of multi-national corporations, all disgusted by the campaign of lies and illegal activities perpetuated by Gold Corporation.

In 2007, following the fourth successive FanFest which drew 15,000 young participants, I wrote that this movement represents the birth of a real civil society in Romania. In 2011, a group of activists occupied the building of the former Conti Hotel in Cluj, and unfurled a banner which said "The revolution begins at Rosia Montana". Analysts and commentators ridiculed this. A week of protests in Bucharest and Cluj followed.

What I am getting at here is that the Rosia Montana protests did not come out of the blue, but were part of a predictable and organic progression of civic resistance that had built up over the past decade. Unprecedented in recent decades, this movement has the ability to generate a mental and social readjustment in Romania.


Regarding the history of the Rosia Montana case and its subsequent opposition movement, we can understand where this unprecedented coalition of extremely heterogeneous groups has come from. The number of abuses and illegalities is so great that is affects every kind of group in some way.

"United! We save! Rosia Montana!" is the slogan most often chanted on the streets of Romania these days, coupled with "Solidarity!" These two slogans represent the essence of the protests: a civil society united in solidarity with the people of Rosia Montana, defending their rights against systematic abuses.

After more than a decade, the fight to save Rosia Montana has entered its final phase. It would be an incredible lack of responsibility and humility if the government and parliament went forward with the mining project. The number of truly informed citizens grows by the day. Each day, week, month increases the irritation and anger of the people. If the announcement of the expropriation law drew tens of thousands to the streets, I do not want to imagine what would happen when images of Rosia Montana residents forcefully evicted from their homes begin circulating.

The fight for Rosia Montana is more than about just the fight for Rosia Montana.

Get weekly updates on Europe A thoughtful weekly email of economic, political, social and cultural developments from the storm-tossed continent. Join the conversation: get our weekly email


We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData