Nearly 200 activists staged a colourful and noisy solidarity protest in London today as part of world-wide actions in solidarity with protests in Romania against government corruption and plans to poison the beautiful Western Transylvanian area with a vast cyanide-mined gold extraction project.
Recently, the Romanian government tried to push through a law which would have allowed a Canadian company, Gabriel Resources, to take over land in Western Transylvania, through its local subsidiary, Rosia Montana Gold Corporation. The law would have set aside environmental and safety standards, and permitted compulsory purchase of private land in an area that has seen gold mining since Roman times.
The government’s attempt to rush through the project has resulted in a huge backlash from the public, who see the issue as epitomising failures of a corrupt and useless government.
Today’s protest in London at Trafalgar Square, near the Canadian Embassy, was part of a global show of solidarity, and was attended by around 200 mainly Romanian residents.
Although cyanide is widely used in gold mining, there have been serious accidents in India and Peru among other places, and the scale of the Rosia Montana project is far greater than normal. Throughout Europe, cyanide mining uses no more than 1000 metric tons in total annually, but Gabriel Resources plan to pump 13,000 tons into the land per year, and when the project is over, they intend to leave a vast tailing lake, supposedly dammed for safety, containing around 215 million cubic metres of the deadly poison.
As well as environmental concerns, there are reservations about the economic effect of the exploitation. Only a maximum of 6% of the profits are promised to the Romanian government by the multi-national. While this 6% figure is based on gold and silver extraction, the company will also make huge profits from other precious metals mined, which are not even included in the deal. Meanwhile, the government has stifled other development in the area, suppressing the creation of real jobs and economic expansion.
The people of Romania are also seeing their government failing to provide a real service to the population, and are fed up of the bad governance, mis-management and sheer corruption. Christened the ‘Romanian Autumn’, a huge cross-section of the public has been involved in protests, with creative and inspiring actions starting to challenge the usual apathetic view that ‘the government will do whatever it wants’.
The Rosia Montana resistance has been active in stalling the project for 14 years now, but it is suddenly mushrooming into a national movement with thousands coming out into the streets in major cities all round the country. The movement has also gone viral, leading to solidarity actions in dozens of countries, the involvement of well-known celebrities such as Woody Harrelson, and ever greater international pressure on the Romanian government.
Cyanide mining is banned in many EU countries, and the movement is hoping to extend that ban Europe-wide.
Despite an early apparent news blackout, the protests are spreading so fast and so wide that the mainstream media can no longer ignore the issue. There is a positive feeling among activists that a win is attainable for the good of the Romanian people and to set a precedent against big corporations’ anti-democratic power.
The London protest was colourful, inventive, artistic, boisterous, and uplifting.
There was a brief visit from cops, and the Square’s “Heritage Wardens” (although they have no jurisdiction on the upper part of the area) came for a look, as did some gallery staff, but the more than three-hour event passed without incident, and the message was well and truly brought to London that the Romanian public is waking up and standing up to its government and to trans-national exploitation.
More info via @RosiaMontana, bit.ly/saverosia, FB Save Rosia Montana UK, and http://rosiamontana.ngo.ro/en/