Bionic Spirit

The Internet is Bringing True Democracy in Romania

The story involves a gold mining project of a dubious company, a project in the approval process ever since 1995, with a Canadian company earning the contract for the exploitation of Roşia Montana from our state by means of a faked auction, with each government passing the hot potato to the next.

It's a story filled with corruption of wild proportions, stock market speculations, illegal contracts, a whole region being declared as a mono-industry to starve its inhabitants, a project that will bring only dimes and nickels to our budget, that will destroy 4 mountains, about 4282 hectares of land, 250 hectares of forest and the oldest mining galleries in Europe (predating the Romans) that are part of our cultural and historical heritage. It will also destroy a beautiful landscape and will leave in its wake an 8 Km wide crater, 400m in depth, with water contaminated with cyanide and rare metals, that can spill in the nearby Abrud river and can also reach Tisza and the Danube.

It's not like environmental disasters haven't happened already in the Baia Mare cyanide spill, which was considered to be the biggest European environmental disaster since Chernobyl and take note, in all of Europe about 1000 tons of cyanide are used per year, whereas the project at Roşia Montană is supposed to use about 13,000 tons of cyanide per year. And the budget specified for “greening” the place is laughable.

Protests have been going on for years, however starting with September 1st it gained traction, as thousands went to the streets of Romania in all major cities, after our government came up with a clearly unconstitutional legislative proposal that allows this private company to make expropriations, trumping our property rights. Since then the protest grew bigger and bigger. On Sunday, September 8 we've had tens of thousands of people marching on the streets of all major cities. Yesterday, on September 15th, we've had even more, with at least 25,000 people marching on the streets of Bucharest, another 10,000 people marching in Cluj, in addition to the thousands in all other major cities. The protest also has an international reach, as Romanians in Dispora organized protests and gathered support in over 20 major cities worldwide, including Washington DC, New York, London, Toronto and Berlin.

Photo by Cristian Vasile

If you add up the numbers, it may not seem like much, but for us it is a big deal, as this is the biggest, most informed, most civilized protest we've had ever since 1990.

A whole generation of people who, for the past 20 years, have been living each inside their own bubble, minding their own business, studying, building careers and families, has come out on the streets to raise its collective voice for the future of the next generation.” - Romania is Rising

What pissed me off the most was the almost total mass-media blackout of these events. During the protests only one small TV station did full broadcasting of the events during September 1st and September 8th, with another one following with timorous steps. No major TV or newspaper covered the protests, until September 9th and when they started doing it, a massive disinformation and manipulation campaign followed, seeking to discredit the protestants in the eyes of the public opinion. It is public knowledge that the corporation behind this project had massive investments in advertising campaigns, meant to shift the public opinion about the project, not to mention its proven ties to our political landscape, coercing mass-media companies to shut their mouths in the process.

I realize that newspapers and TV stations do not have any social contract for them to work for the public good. Nothing prevents them from doing this and we must understand that we, as their audience, we are the product that they sell to their true customers, the advertisers. However I always thought that because of capitalism the competition arising by the rules of the free market will prevent such massive cases of deceitfulness.

Self-censorship at its best. Things weren't this worse even when our former dictator Ceauşescu was ruling this country (at least then people were tuned to Radio Free Europe). It's like we are living the stories in Confessions of an Economic Hit-man.

And yet yesterday, on September 15th, there were even more people on the streets. And next Sunday, on September 22nd the protest might grow in intensity yet again, with big uprisings being planned on every Sunday until the demands are met. There's no end in sight. Our prime-minister declared yesterday that he would meet with representatives of the protests, if only he “knew who they are”, for negotiations (poor bastard, he still doesn't get it). But people don't want another negotiation or another compromise, instead they want all of their demands to be met and the resignation of our prime-minister was just added to that list. And if you can boil it down to just one demand, the message is powerful and clear:

We want to live under the rule of law!

But the 4th power in the state, the mass-media, has failed us all.

Yet, how could these protests happen, in spite of the censorship, in spite of the manipulation campaign that the Gold Corporation has been carrying for years, in spite of our politicians desire to do PR work for this corporation?

The Internet and Romania's Autumn are Here

It was quite funny to notice the reactions of politicians and the old-media. They tried rationalizing it with things like - oh, these are just “hipsters”, they don't have the facts, they are mobilized by so and so non-profit organizations, somebody paid them, they are just kids on crack and so on. It's true that these may be part of a public opinion manipulation campaign, however the messages delivered until now have been so incoherent that they reek of incompetence and stupefaction.

It seems as if they are also trying to lie to themselves in believing that the world is still the same, as they start grasping the truth little by little - that they are losing control. I can only imagine the chill down their spine this idea sends.

We now have a middle-class that uses the Internet for dissemination of information and for organizing themselves. People aren't blind anymore. The apathetic population that is tired of voting for the lesser evil is now rising.

People used social networks like Facebook and Twitter to spread information and photos, to come up with plans for informing the public opinion and to organize the events. Independent journalists, that aren't controlled by puppeteers, wrote wonderful pieces on the subject using publishing platforms like Wordpress that couldn't be shut down. They used YouTube to upload videos of the protests. Google Trends shows a big spike in the interest for this subject being searched. Also, even though the only television with full coverage of the event has been pulled from the base package of the largest cable TV operator (of course, with ties to the Gold Corporation), their transmission was available online for all by live streaming. Reddit you were there too.

A thing of beauty so to speak.

You can search for #unitisalvam #rosiamontana BTW, on both Facebook and Twitter. The pictures and messages sent live, during the events, by means of smartphones are simply awesome.

The Internet is bringing down walls. It allows people to communicate, to be better informed, to learn, to organize, to create friendships, to have a voice. It's a many-to-many communications and collaborations platform that is quickly turning us into the “global village”. It is the culmination of everything we've invented so far, its importance being second only to the discovery of electricity and the industrial revolution that followed. It is changing the fabric of our society and I'm experiencing it right now.

I'm proud to be a Romanian, but I'm also proud to be a software developer. It's because we change things, many times for the betterment of society.

I'll leave you with this wonderful quartet, interpreting “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica, silencing a square full of people on September 9th:

And here's another one that captures the atmosphere on the 15th:

That's quite an elegant and beautiful protest, isn't it?