Golden mountains and narrow stairs

“Soon we’ll be going to the seaside – kissing a revolution goodnight”

We’ve been for hours at Piața Universității and the Roșia Montană demonstration seems to be dissolving. It’s Sunday evening and we’re suffering from a series of serious drinking nights at Carol 53 and Control. So we decide to go to the hotel, take a shower, watch a movie, get some food delivered to our bed. While Val takes a shower I turn on the TV and zap through the channels. On B1 they report live from the demonstration that much to my surprise grew up to 3000 people who are marching towards Piața Victoriei.

With the exception of the annually First of May Riots in Hamburg and Berlin, demonstrations in Germany are as punctual as the trains. They have a beginning, which is usually the point where they gather the most people, preferably on an early Sunday afternoon. And they have an ending, that’s usually about two or three hours after the first TV cameras have flashed and half an hour after they’ve disappeared. The place and date are authorized by the city hall and if the rally gets off its track police beats it back. That’s why I’ve expected the Roșia Montană demonstration to either end with the falling of dusk or to get ended by the usual police-hooligan-rencounter.

I call Val to tell me what they’re saying on TV about it and she instantly switches to some untranslatable Romanian cursing. The brunette doll of a TV reporter talks according to Val about violently-looking demonstrators “who obviously have fun with creating chaos and blocking traffic”. Later on, the B1 studio-chick asks a spokesman of the riot-police: “When are you going to intervene?” Val is kind of exploding and even I see the bias between the cheering and waving people on the street and the bitchy hysteria on TV. So we make our way to Piața Victoriei to see what’s going on ourselves.

There I meet almost everyone I got to know during my last two stays in Bucharest. Since it is not a topic at all in the German press I have a lot of questions about Roșia Montană and also about the demonstration culture in Romania. I find many of them unanswered. I met Găbițu, a guy who works for Kraft, one of these global food and beverage companies that sell the same ready-made shit in every country of the world and claim it as altruism while they’re withdrawing local competitors – meaning also: disabling the emergence of a more sustainable economic structure, the chance for people to identify with their jobs and keep their awareness of responsibility for the environment.

Anyway, Găbițu is a nice guy, streetwise glance, cuddly appearance, one who never says no to anything. He carries a Roșia Montană flag and the strong belief that the deal is already made, the chicken beheaded, the law passed. This draft law allows the daughter of Canadian mining giant Gabriel Resources Ltd. to rinse some 314 tons of gold and 1500 tons of silver out of the Transylvanian mountains using 214 million tons of cyanide waste and destroying numerous houses and cultural treasures.

The ridiculous deal of the Romanian government is to get some six percent out of the exploitations’ value.  What Găbițu doesn’t know is that the law still needs to pass the Parliament. He doesn’t believe that this night is going to change anything but he scents that it is more than just symbolical to take to the streets to express yourself. Especially if you’re governed by a schizophrenic fart of a Prime Minister like Victor Ponta is.

Ponta, who was rewarded for his willow-willed populism with the solidarity medal of the Italian Republic by gigolo-politician Silvio Berlusconi, announced that as a parliamentarian he is going to vote No for the new law – but as a Prime Minister he has to say yes. Dystopic statements like this can only appear in a country where no one expects a politician to take responsibility for what they do anymore. Ponta blaming President Traian Băsescu to have taken bribes from the Roșia Montană Gold Corporation as an answer to Băsescu’s blaming Ponta to have taken bribes – all said on TV – left me pretty speechless.

Last time I’ve seen such a behavior was in Kosovo, where the government consists of former warlords and senior smugglers. By the way, the last German President resigned because a friend of his paid the hotel check for him. This friend was a film producer and got a grant by the state after he had dinner with Christian Wulff, who some years later became the German President for one and a half years – until someone eventually found that hotel check. Media created such a hysteria around it that he resigned “to prevent further damage from the Government” – a different example of how to fuck up with the given responsibility.

Găbițu, like many others, took to the streets because he knows Roșia Montană is the rape of a country and that the only ones who will be profiting are corrupt politicians, willful marionettes of giant Gabriel. The English authors David Mitchell and Rupert Wolfe-Murray warn this could become a test case for the international mining industry: “Their business model depends on poor and badly governed countries like Romania bending to their will and allowing free access to their mineral wealth.”

So it would be better to scream out loud against it, even though you can’t change it, than to stay put and let it happen like a TV dinner – is what Găbițu said to himself. But again to my surprise the demonstrations last on since almost a week now and are far more than a single scream. Playing hide and seek with the military police, the protesters managed to occupy various boulevards and public places in the vast and warm nights of downtown Bucharest. They share information and experiences. Wherever I was looking for a better place to get my camera in position I found someone reaching a hand to climb fences or statues.

I wanted to find out more about it and got to know the guys of which let me live in their house – which is probably the best and most objective resource of information about Roșia Montană as well as it is a vivid source of journalistic spirit. Even though there is only cold water and the place looks like it was recently squatted by Russian punks and the ever-pitchdark staircase smells literally like shit.

The guys from the house of journalists, who know the established media in Romania from the inside, explained to me that journalists are generally free but censor themselves with poor reporting because they don’t want to aggravate their sponsors and owners, which are in many cases the same. That might not sound as spectacular as the thesis of corrupt and politically directed media but it makes sense to me and it fits my experience from other countries.

Just one example: Before I came to Romania to spend my summer vacation I got asked by a media agency in my hometown Zwickau to contribute to a new magazine. They asked me because I’m working as an editor for the local newspaper and they wanted to have someone with political insight and the balls to blame bad governing – that’s what they said at least. Two days after our last conference I sat on the plane and received an email from the editor-in-chief, that they cancelled my story about a local conservative politician running for the national parliament, who got blackmailed with a sex-tape showing him having group sex. They said they don’t want to rush with such “explicit” stories in order to not offend potential sponsors; maybe wait until the second issue. A story about crystal-meth, the drug that is flooding the city for two years now? “Not this time!” Right-wing extremists or the structure of the prostitution-sector? “Better not.” Instead they want stories like: what’s the mayor’s favorite place in the city to hang out. New wintersport trends. Or: does the size of the nose correlate with the size of a man’s dick.

It is the same kind of self-censoring that makes Romanian televisions report about how Gigi Becali is treated in prison, and how Băsescu’s daughter is released from hospital, instead of showing how thousands of young people are demonstrating on the streets. Cristian Neagoe, editor-in-chief of Șapte Seri, sounded honestly puzzled when asking one early morning after the demonstrations, while we were all crowding in the House of Journalists: “What prevents them from telling the real story? What kind of a journalist does not want to find out what is happening?” It might be so because they act like businessmen, not like reporters.

The casajurnalistului guys freed themselves from dependencies by working on their own. Founder Vlad Ursulean says: “I just have a lot of questions – and I thought this is the best way to find answers: working freely and independently.” It surely is better though when you don’t tend to luxury or insist on a schedule that is based around three meals a day.

At the demonstrations I saw a banner calling the journalists “presstitutes” – but that’s just half of the truth. Modern media deliver what they expect people to be interested in.

I was impressed by the positive energy of the protest, but on the other hand I was also surprised about the peaceful strategy of the police. As a journalist, or simply as a tourist with the talent of getting in trouble, I followed demonstrations in several European countries like Kosovo, Serbia, Italy, Germany and England – but I’ve never seen such a non-violent gathering of numerous groups of interest confronting riot-police. The first time in my conscious life a guy in a police uniform said “please” to me. Bicycle corsos, drums and saxophon players mark my remembrance of the last nights, as well as long talks about politics, dancing people and the enduring rhythmical banging of empty bottles on the warm concrete.

Different demonstrators reported about solidarity statements of gendarmes. And when trying to remove seated protesters from the street it sometimes looked more like a foreplay than a serious attempt to avoid blockades. So far, it’s got violent only one time when demonstrators tried to breakthrough a police line at Blvd. Magheru on Wednesday. But this can be considered an intermezzo, and no one got injured badly.

Nevertheless one shouldn’t be too naïve about it: markets react bitchy too and the decrease of Gabriel’s stocks on Monday, which fell 11%, strengthens the government’s position in negotiations with the Canadians. And also raises the bribes because they know it’s in the government’s hand to end the protests by instructing the gendarmes.

On day four of the protests I stopped by a mini-market to buy cigarettes and met Alice and Matei. They were discussing about which bottles are most banging-proof for making noise. According to them it is the 0,2 liter bottle of “panther-piss” (Nestea). It’s a subtle irony that those bottles were especially designed to be sold to highschool kids who were given small milk-containers before.

Alice is a young graphic designer who I got to know during my first stay in Bucharest last year in August. She’s incredibly talented, well-educated and  creative – the kind of staff German enterprises desperately search for – but as many others she frequently thinks about leaving the country because it doesn’t offer much perspective to her.

When I met Alice again on Tuesday she carried a demonstration banner from Piața Universității to a side street to irritate the gendarmes and to prepare the breakout to Calea Victoriei. Since that day people are talking more and more confidently about a revolution. However, what speaks against it is the fact that the demonstrations don’t seem to be able to gather more people the longer they last. The protest will most probably slowly fade out. But it has created something long lasting and the core of a new self-consciousness in young Romanians: they’re willing to take to the streets instead of running away, willing to express themselves instead of hiding behind a curtain of cynicism, willing to create a change instead of watching TV.

I met a deeply moved George Gâdei, singer of Travka, speaking of “the beginning of the beginning of something great and beautiful.” I met Oana and Ștefan from Poetrip every night on the streets, their eyes reflecting with satisfaction how the rhythm of the demonstrators synchronized in some pure and rare moments.

The experience of those unforgettable nights at Blvd. Magheru, Blvd. Regina Elisabeta, Calea Victoriei, Piața Constituției and Piața Victoriei will remain and hopefully light a spark in others. Meanwhile, I’ll take a look at what the students are doing in Vama Veche.


I wrote this article on Thursday the 5th. The night when one could hear some tuba player coughing the death march into the cold and cloudless night of Bucharest while the demonstrators split up into two groups: one at Piata Constitutiei and one at Blvd. Regina Elisabeta. I wrote another article about Rosia Montana for my newspaper back in Germany and then Val and I went off to Vama Veche on Saturday.

There we sat for dinner at Bibi Bistro, frantically rubbing our smartphones to see what’s happening in Bucharest. Again to my surprise the demonstrations grew even bigger and I say to Val: “I think I drew some wrong conclusion, babe.” She agrees and I reply: “Fuck it, in this case it’s really nice to be wrong.” Then came Sunday and it truly moistened our vaginas to see some 10.000 people on the streets while we’re again at Bibi’s.

I call my editor in Germany to tell him how things are developing, saying that he needs to update the number of protesters. He says: “Man, we’re already about to print.” I tell him that if he doesn’t edit the article the day my plane sets on German ground will be the last day he lives with all the teeth in his mouth. He finds that somehow convincing and gets moving.

Then I send a message to the casajurnalistului guys: “Damn! Mates, what’s going on in Bucharest? That’s awesome! I guess my article needs some updating…” Stefan Mako writes back, probably sitting on some roof to take pictures of the marching crowd: “Haha. Great. You’re missing 10.000 people” For the first time since I’m in Romania I have the feeling that I’m in the wrong place.

So I ask the waitress at Bibi’s for pen and paper and while B1 shows some retarded starlets I draw a new conclusion: Beautiful people of Bucharest, I don’t want to have your problems. But I sure do love your protests!

Christian Gesellmann is a german journalist working for Freie Presse, who visited Bucharest for a vacation and ended up going to the protests every day, because everyone he knew was there.

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