Rosia Montana: Are We Drawing to a Close?

On the 9th of December, a referendum was organized in 35 small Romanian localities within the mining region where the Roşia Montană project is supposed to take place. The decision to hold the referendum on the same day as the legislative elections was obviously neither coincidental, nor just a sensible cost-savings measure. Rather,the not-so-secret hope was that merging two deliberative issues for the same ballot would secure a good turnout and push the controversial project beneath the door and then up the decision makers’ table. After all, there are other examples from the recent past that consolidated this mechanism. But it so happened that the referendum had to be invalidated due to an insufficient turnout.

In the event that the referendum expressed the will of the local people to restart mining in the area, the corporation, project advocates, and politicians who have over the last years been reciting the mantra of job creation would have hailed its outcome as a clear triumph of democracy over demagogy and misinformation. But would it have really been so?

If, in 2002, when the Local Council voted that Roşia Montană should be transformed from a residential area into an industrial area, thus making it virtually impossible for any alternative economic activity to develop there, a referendum had been organized and the ‘will of people’ had spoken in one voice, it would have been more difficult to criticize now this proof of sham democracy.  But the major questions still remain, and, moreover, no significant effort is being made to answer them. Why should this project be simply a matter of securing jobs and temporary welfare for a community who is indeed very poor? After all, there should be more talk about non-renewable resources, environmental and legal protection mechanisms, and fair distribution of stakeholder responsibilities. Such issues are not strictly of local interest, but if the referendum had been held at national level, it is very plausible to say that not only  it would have been valid, but the project itself would had been rejected. It is still unclear to me whether a referendum, be it national, would be the best alternative to decide on such an issue. From one angle, it would just serve to cover decision makers in the voice and authority of the ‘people’, while preserving the same hazy distribution of responsibilities at policy level.

If, at the beginning of my posts on Roşia Montană, I saw this research topic riddled with questions, the answers to which would really make a difference, I rather tend to believe now that this project poses deep structural problems which must be addressed at their core, and not on a case-to-case basis.  Even if for the moment there is no definite answer on what is going to happen in that area, the fact that the referendum was invalidated should not be seen as a good sign by opponents of the projects. After all, it is a precedent procedurally approved, and it may be just a matter of time until it becomes successful.

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2 responses to “Rosia Montana: Are We Drawing to a Close?

  1. One thing I was wondering is whether the referendum stimulated good public discussions? After all, the turnout and the outcome of a referendum are just one aspect. Another aspect that can change the game and affect legitimacy of future decisions is the public discussion that is created by holding such a referendum.

  2. Thank you for your comment. It is important to see whether this referendum really made a difference with regard to the terms of the public perception and discussions. What happened is, however, that the diverging views of advocates and opponents gained perhaps more consistency from their own different interpretations of the results. This means that the same polarized views and general immunity to complex arguments prevail. On one hand, advocates see the referendum as a triumph of the locals’ wish to have jobs (by referring mostly or exclusively to the proportion of votes in the community of Rosia Montana: pro – ~79% – and against – ~20%). In fact, this community is only one of the 30 other communities in the area, smaller or bigger, where people were called to vote. On the other hand, opponents interpret the results as a negative vote to the project (overall low turnout, insufficient for validation, i.e. 43.2 as compared to at least 50% +1). Oddly or not, changes seem more visible on the Internet, with an apparent increase in the number of Facebook likes for the project’s page (approx. 611.000). Even more oddly, a recurrent topic in the public discussion was to compare this particular referendum with the one held this summer, aimed at the resignation of the incumbent President, although the not-to-be-forgotten difference is that the former was a consultative referendum, whereas the results of the latter were mandatory to apply.
    A last remark: if there was a topic of discussion generated by this referendum and worthy to bear in mind for the future is that there were enough voices to question the way it was organized. To be more specific, procedural shortcomings at the limit of legality were uncovered. Unfortunately, the result of this contribution to the public discussion does not really represent a step forward. In my opinion, it simply increases the mistrust of those who oppose the project and persuades the advocates that there is really a conspiracy against the welfare of this small community.

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