They are the biggest demonstrations Romania has seen this century. Across the country and beyond, tens of thousands have taken to the streets in protests that have included a human chain around Bucharest’s massive parliament, one of the world’s largest buildings, and a rally of several hundred Romanians in London’s Trafalgar Square.
If the demonstrations have gained momentum in part due to economic hardship and especially disillusionment with the political elite, they were initially triggered by a highly controversial mining project and the ecological and cultural damage that it might cause. Though environmental issues have for a long time been seen as marginal in Southeastern European politics, it would not be the first time that environmental protests have snowballed into anti-establishment movements in the region.
The Romanian protests began over an extremely controversial multibillion dollar foreign gold mining project in the Transylvanian village of Rosia Montana. The project would bring an estimated $2 billion in foreign investment to the country, much needed after a savage recession in 2009 followed by a very sluggish recovery. With the boom years of the past decade a distant memory, the economic effects of the mine investment, led by Canadian-owned Gabriel Resources, could be significant.