Monitoring press freedom and international affairs from Mid-Missouri Public Radio and the Missouri School of Journalism

Romania: no dirty gold

Demonstrators against the Rosia Montana Gold Corporation mining project in Romania held a public art protest Saturday night in downtown Toronto, Canada. Cardboard boxes were displayed with the campaign message, “Save Rosia Montana,” to symbolize the four targeted mountains in the western part of Transylvania.

Rosia Montana is seen as the most controversial and biggest gold mining project in Europe and is estimated to produce more than 10 million ounces of gold and around 48 million ounces of silver. Anti-mining groups and environmentalists have intensely criticized the gold deposit exploitation, expressing concerns about the environmental damages, the risk of deteriorating historical monuments in the region and the inconvenience for the local community.

The controversy started in the 1990s when the Canadian company showed interest in mining operations in Transylvania and made a secret agreement with the Romanian government.

The issue was avoided for years after until Romania’s Prime Minister Victor Ponta signed the proposed law two months ago, authorizing the Rosia Montana Gold Corporation (RMGC) to open the gold mine next year for operation. It would allow the Canadian company Gabriel Resources, which owns 80 percent of the RMGC, to evict villagers around the mountain and start opencast exploration.

“If Romania gives the message that we are against foreign investors, against using our potential, that would be a catastrophe for Romania," said Ponta at a Reuters Investment Summit.

A horizontal structure of protesters

The political move has led to a public outrage, cumulating into the biggest social movement Romania has experienced since the fall of the communist bloc in 1989. Romanians felt betrayed by their government after Prime Minister Ponta, who had publicly rejected the Canadian company’s project during his electoral campaign last year, opened the way for the RMGC to access the area.

Contacted by email, Oana Romocea, a Communication Specialist and Researcher in Media Studies, said that protesters have quickly organized themselves and found ways to promote their movement.

“Due to the limited access to media debates, the civil society has turned to social media channels to put their opinion across, and so far, it has worked well given the steadfast growth of the Save Rosia Montana movement,” Romocea said.

In an interview with the Global Journalist, Ramona Duminicioiu, an environmental activist and member of the Save Rosia Montana movement, said that today, the opposition as a horizontal structure of thousands of protesters, with a nucleus of hundreds of people who create court cases and brought arguments and studies against the project.

Icomos and other NGOs have fought for the inclusion of Rosia Montana to the UNESCO World Heritage to prevent any exploration around the mountain. Two-thousand-year-old mine galleries from the Roman Empire can be found in the region.

A long-dated economic investment

The gold mining project is estimated to be worth $21.7 billion and calculates that the Romanian government will receive 75 percent of the benefits in taxes, royalties and dividends. RMGC alleges the creation of more than 6,000 direct and indirect jobs during construction and life of the mine.

RMGC had included changes in their mining project over the years in hope of approval. In 2001, a preventive archaeological research was set with the authorization of Romanian Minister of Culture and the presence of the coordinator of the National Romanian History Museum.

From 2002 to 2006, studies were made regarding the environmental initial conditions of the region. An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was submitted by RMGC and sent to the Ministry of Environment. However, the ministry suspended the EIA review in 2007 due to the invalidity of an urbanism certificate, a document that details urban design, sustainability and project infrastructure.

In 2009, RMGC inaugurated a neighborhood in Recea, in the city of Alba Iulia, with the plan to relocate 125 families from Save Rosia Montana communities. The company alleges that the families had the choice to choose their land before making the decision of selling their property.

To be approved, the project now needs to go through the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, which will be responsible for the final decision. If the exploration is authorized, a 16-year extraction period will begin.

A profound mistrust toward Romanian politicians

Above all, it appears that the Romanians against the project mistrust the government and the whole political procedure. Politicians’ attitudes themselves are an object of protest. “Our politicians are amateurs,” said Dominicioiu. “They don’t see people interests, and they don’t know how to lie correctly.”

Even Romania’s President Traian Basescu’s recent proposal to organize a referendum is not taken seriously neither by the majority nor by the opponents.

The Save Rosia Montana has clearly divided the political system. From opposite political parties, President Basescu and Prime Minister Ponta are accusing each other of misunderstanding people’s interests and neglecting environmental consequences.

After the beginning of the protests, Basescu, who had always been a strong supporter of the mine project, started to condemn the environmental aspect. He also kept on accusing Ponta of corruption though he has also had ties with RMGC. In fact, Basescu employed for his last electoral campaign the same advertising company than the Gabriel Resources’ PR service.

“We know that the president’s words are a lie,” Dominicioiu said. “He has no other business but to create this mining project. His support to the project is very profound.”

The Save Rosia Montana movement doesn’t fear a political crisis.

“Let’s the crisis come,” says Duminicioiu.

By the end of November, the Senate has to vote against or in favor of the project, but the result will only be consultative. After the vote, the law will be presented to the Chamber of Deputies, which has to approve or not the law before the end of next January.

“The civil society has been long aware of poor governance, political decisions based on individual profit, lack of transparency, disregard for the public opinion, low journalistic standards,” Romocea said. “With the Rosia Montana campaign, these shortcomings have been exacerbated, as if projected through a magnifying glass.”

By Elian Peltier, Julia Lugon and Kari Paul. 

Monitoring press freedom and international affairs from Mid-Missouri Public Radio and the Missouri School of Journalism.
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