We yesterday decided that we would not write a single word about either of the day’s big Romanian news stories: the four-year-old boy killed by stray dogs in a Bucharest park and the anti-Rosia Montana gold mine protests currently being held every evening in the centre of the capital.
Well, we resisted about an hour on the dog issue. On Rosia Montana we held out until… now.
We have written about Rosia Montana many times before (this Reuters article from last year is a decent primer for anyone not familiar with the issue). We have always tried to be objective and we think we have – by and large – succeeded. We have at least been consistent in our view of whether or not the gold mining project should go ahead (we think it should, because the people of Rosia Montana itself want it to, and their wishes should come before those of metropolitan liberals).
The current protests – which began on Sunday – are a consequence of the Romanian government’s decision to pass legislation which will finally give the project the green light after almost 15 years of delays. Parliament will vote on the law later this month, and given that both the government and opposition are now broadly in favour, it should pass without any problems. It will then have to be approved by President Traian Basescu, but the president is a long-term supporter of the project and will not block its progress.
What has – not without reason – irked opponents of the mine is that the ruling USL coalition clearly stated in its general election manifesto last year that it would oppose the project. Prime Minister Victor Ponta has made himself look a fool by ridiculously declaring that he is opposed to the gold mine as an MP, but that he is in favour of it in his capacity as prime minister. That’s shocking leadership, although nothing we haven’t come to expect from a young man who looks increasingly out of his depth.
As for the protesters themselves, it would appear that the hardcore, professional anti-Rosia Montana types who have opposed the project for years have now been joined by a strange coalition of anti-capitalists and Romanian nationalists as well as large-numbers of mainly young, part-time protesters for whom this cause is – amongst other things – an excellent chance to show what good and decent people they are.
Their message is simple: Save Rosia Montana. This is where any sympathy we might have for their cause disappears.
We simply do not understand what it is they want to save. Rosia Montana, as anyone who has actually been there (and the vast majority of those protesting have not) will testify, is a shithole: a legacy of industrial neglect dating back decades. If, by ‘saving’ Rosia Montana the protesters are implying that Rosia Montana should stay just as it is, then they are condemning the town and its population to a slow, miserable death. Still, the protesters do not have to live there.
It would therefore be nice to know what plans the protesters have for Rosia Montana in the event that they get what they want and the mine does not open. So far, all we have heard are vague ideas about ‘tourism.’ Could anyone share any fully-formed ideas for Rosia Montana’s future that do not involve mining? We would love to hear about them.
Finally, it is worth pointing out that Traian Basescu has floated the idea of a nationwide referendum on the issue: a simple, ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ vote.
Now, while we do not like referenda in general (people elect politicians to make decisions for them: they do not elect themselves) and think that this is a local and not a national issue, such a vote could be workable compromise. It would give every Romanian a say in Rosia Montana’s future (not to mention the future of the gold under Rosia Montana) and would definitively put a 15 year old argument to bed one way or another. As we assume the protesters will be more than happy with a referendum, should the government not adopt Basescu’s idea?