Rosia Montana: Revolution

The Art of Revolution: Part I

Revolution is a provocative word.

Like a flag carried over the battlefield, it raises images of war and bloodshed, of Lady Liberty leading the common people against the brutal chains of tyranny. Yet, all too often, revolution does not mean an end to tyranny; only a change in tyrants.

There exists another kind of revolution, one that does not create an opportunity for opportunists. It’s a revolution of the spirit and it takes place within ourselves. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.”

Derived from the Latin verb revolvere, the word revolution has been evolving for centuries. Though the astronomer Copernicus created a revolution of thought when he published On the Revolutions (De revolutionibus orbium coelestium) to describe the movement of planets in our heliocentric solar system, it was much later that astrologers began using revolution to mean a significant “turning” of events, an upheaval of change, especially in regards to the affairs of the king. James II of England must have realized this firsthand during the Glorious Revolution of 1688 when he was overthrown by English parliamentarians in favor of William and Mary.

In modern times, revolution has offered the promise of something radically new and, presumably, better. This was the case in December 1989, when Romanians took to the streets in Timosoara to voice their anger and frustration over years of oppressive rule by Nicolae Ceaușescu. Regarded as one of the most brutal rulers in Communist Europe, Ceaușescu was ultimately overthrown and executed.

…Romanians were crazed with happiness. People who never met each other before hugged each other in the streets – convinced that tomorrow things would look different. Then came the many disappointments.
~ Octavian Paler

What, then, of Romania and the Romanian people? Did their revolution bring something “radically new” to Romania; an end to tyranny and the birth of “government by the people”?

In a way, yes. Communist directives fell, replaced by democratic institutions and ideals. Gone was the Romanian police state. A new era of self-government was being ushered in; or so it seemed.

To many, it was only the face of tyranny that had changed. They saw the same players from Ceaușescu’s regime holding official government positions, including President Ion Iliescu. This came to a head in June 1990 when President Iliescu transported over 10,000 miners to Bucharest to restore order against protesting university students and intellectuals. Upset over the hurried election of President Iliescu, the protestors condemned the new government’s failure to uphold the Proclamation of Timisoara which decreed that no former Communist Party members could hold office. Dozens died and the world watched in shocked disbelief as miners used wooden clubs, rubber hoses and iron bars on protesters and innocent civilians.

Did the protesters have cause for concern? Of all the Eastern Bloc countries that witnessed the fall of communism within their borders, only Bulgaria and Romania saw members of the old regime back in power. The purpose of the Proclamation of Timisoara was to give the country a clean foundation upon which to build a new government, free from politicians who had supported a corrupt communist political system. How could ex-party officials be trusted to form a democratic government when they, themselves, had taken part in the systematic, often brutal, oppression of the Romanian people?

Though violent events like those in 1990 have been rare, a similar mistrust in government is fueling the current crisis at Rosia Montana. A UNESCO-worthy heritage site, Rosia Montana galvanized the opposition into action when Frank Timis, a Romanian-born Australian immigrant and founder of Gabriel Resources, set his sights on the area as the perfect location for Europe’s largest open-pit gold mine. With 2000 years of natural and cultural heritage threatened, angry citizens of Rosia Montana banded together to form opposition groups.

As resistance grew, so did the resolve of the mining company – and allegations of misconduct. Desperate to show its shareholders progress, the mining company was accused of resorting to tactics all-too-familiar to a nation demoralized under 40 years of communist rule; threats, buy-offs, bribes, misinformation and pseudo-science. These tactics could only be possible under a government unable, or unwilling, to enforce democratic law. Indeed, it was becoming clear the company had accomplices at every level of government.

From the beginning, Gabriel Resources, and its Romanian subsidiary, Rosia Montana Gold Corporation, has been embroiled in controversy. In 1997, in an agreement with the Romanian government that has many more questions than answers, Frank Timis, at the time a small business owner and trained auto mechanic, somehow was able to secure the lease of not only Romania’s but Europe’s largest goldfields. Despite repeated cries to the contrary, the contract between Gabriel Resources and the Romanian government has remained sealed, hidden away from public review.

In 2000, Virgil Nicolae Narita was elected Rosia Montana’s mayor in part by speaking out against the proposed project and its relocation of the village. Not long after taking office, however, he helped pass a local resolution designating the area a mono-industrial mining zone – a move that effectively stopped any other investments from entering into the impoverished local economy.

Some of the villagers accuse him of betrayal–running for office on a ticket opposing the relocation, while now pursuing a more diplomatic line. ~ LA Times

Mr. Narita’s reasons for a turnabout took on more clarity after he was forced from office in 2006 when it was discovered that he and his family were making huge profits from mining company projects that benefited his own construction company; a clear conflict of interest.

Similarly, opponents of the mining project often find closed doors to getting  answers. Dr. Horia Ciugudean, one of Romania’s most renown archaeologists and a staunch opponent to the mining project, has been repeatedly denied the necessary permits to properly survey the proposed mining land by Alba County officials. Not surprisingly, Alba County is a beneficiary of Rosia Montana Gold Corporation, and has repeatedly denied Dr. Ciugudean the necessary archeological permits even though only 1% of the project’s land has been surveyed according to accepted scientific standards

For a country still recovering from a recent history of oppression and government corruption, mistrust of politicians and government runs deep. What is happening to Rosia Montana only adds to this mistrust. Its story has been simmering in the minds of Romanians, waiting for a galvanizing moment that would drive the people to decisive, cohesive action.

That moment came in September 2013.

Next Week: The Art of Revolution: Part II

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