Democracy International: These days we hear a lot of news from Romania that people protest against fracking and gold mining. What is happening in Romania these days?
Georgeta Ionescu: For the past four weeks thousands of Romanians have been peacefully protesting against Europe’s biggest open-cast cyanide gold mining project in Rosia Montana. Antifracking is also among their demands as well as their right to a clean and healthy environment. People march on the streets, and they mobilise more people. Also, they occupy the most representative places in our capital.
Regarding the cyanide gold mining, there has been a controversy for already fourteen years when a Canadian company obtained a license for open pit mining on Rosia Montana. This is a traditional mining area where gold was extracted since Roman times until the 1990s. Actually there is a long and unique mining history in place, the oldest mining vestiges in the country, with ancient galleries and equipments of those ancient times. Even transcripts of Roman law were recovered there.
Why are people upset?
Actually, both permisions to exploit shale gas and cyanide mining were adopted without public consultation. The content is still kept secret to the public. The requests to declassify those documents were rejected, and the public consultations that accompany the environmental impact assessment were only simulated. A lot of people simply refuse to accept that their environment is endangered. In particular, the Rosia Montana open pit it is also about preserving our history in place, and protecting our heritage. Civil society organisations demand UNESCO protection for all the archeological evidences of life that were discovered there.
Currently, four mountains are proposed to be excavated and 13.000 tons of cyanide to be used in the most extended exploitation of Europe. A tail pond with cyanide contained waste is supposed to cove 300 hectares. This project scares those people who still remember Baia Mare cyanide spill in 2000, which caused pollution that even affected the neighboring country. Also, memories of the accident from another closed mine in Certej in 1971 are still vivid. Then, 89 people died and many others were injured.
Is direct democracy used to solve the conflict at stake?
Four referendums were organized about shale gas in Dobrogea cities last December. Despite the inhabitants’ strong opposition to fracking of more than 90 per cent, only one referendum passed the turnout quorum. Now that decision is challenged by the government, which already granted the right to the company Chevron to start the exploration phase. In Vaslui County 17 local councils decided to ban fracking. The same happened in Arad. These decisions represent the will of local people. Though the central administration puts high pressure on the councils to make obsolete their decisions. Even their governmental subsidies are diminished until they comply. Vaslui County with Barlad city have been protesting against these decisions since last February, including meetings with thousands of people. One government fell as a consequence last spring. Citizens are continuing the protests claiming to ban fracking. Will the politicians listen to them? We will see…
What are you doing yourself to solve the conflict?
I use the legal rights granted to citizens and request transparency at country and company level, including the disclosure of those agreements that have an impact on communalities like water and land. We need to focus on the impact on human rights of the decisions and request from the parties involved to undertake anything else that is necessary in order to protect the right to life, health, and the environment. We are facing big problems, not only here in Romania. The world is in trouble. Fourty years ago we thought we had an environmental problem. Today the problem is many times bigger - we are reaching the critical point. Our people request a fundamental shift. We need to go beyond discussing human rights. We must ensure that they are implemented in practice.
What are your political goals?
I am a promoter of a clean and healthy environment, and a more democratic society. We inherited from another era our current fossil fuel on which the global energy economy is based. In order to shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy we must adopt the right public policies. We must not waste time, we need to act NOW! Coal, oil, natural gas burning and also their extraction enrich global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane and all climate-altering greenhouse gases. I fight against ferocious deforestations in my country and others. In all those fights for life, communities must participate in political decision-making, as they are the first ones to be affected. Direct democracy is the best cure for our society whenever a project threats communities.
Recently you founded a democracy group in Romania with Adrian Ciobanu and Dinita Ciprian. How is work progressing? What are your goals with regard to this organization?
The association was registered only a couple of days ago. Our first projects are connected to education on civil rights and public awareness campaigns. We attend public debates on current hot issues. We intend to extend our campaign to inform people on the rights they have according to current law to participate in public consultations. Our final goal is to ensure a direct vote on certain decisions that affect communities. The e-vote system can be easily implemented at local level and minimum cost for a public consultation. But the hard work is to change mentalities: there is still too much apathy among citizens when it comes to participation in public life including votes, elections or expressing opinion on certain projects.
Which challenges do you face in terms of building the organization?
The hard bit is to make us and our platform known as we have limited material resources. Also recruiting new members is a big task we face.
Early this month the European Citizens' Initiative (ECI) "Water is a Human right" handed over more than 1,8 million signatures to the national authorities. Is the ECI well known in Romania?
I am very happy with the success of the ECI “Water is a human right”, an initiative that satisfies a basic human need. Romanians participated in signing the ECI. I promoted the initiative in my country, by using social media and networking. Also, I am a supporter of the ECI “End Ecocide”. Together with some friends in other EU countries, we would like to start a new one to ban cyanide use. We will keep you up to date about how we will proceed.
Thank you for the interview. We wish you a lot of success with your political work.
Interview by Cora Pfafferott
- Georgeta Ionescu in the internet on Facebook and on LinkedIn
- You Tube Clip on the human chain around Romania's Parliament on Day 21 of the protests
- News article by gandul.info on Day 22 of the protests (in Romanian)
- Article by Democracy International on the new democracy group in Romania