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Romania Rising

What Happens when Sleeping Beauty Wakes?

Never in my life did I feel so proud to be part of my generation than I felt today. Today my country marked a new stage in its history. 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. This future is now in peril because of a controversial mining project which is threatening to destroy one of the most beautiful parts of the country, turning it into a waste dump filled with cyanide.

More than 15 000 people have marched in the streets of Bucharest today, and many thousands more have protested in tens of other cities, both in Romania and abroad. In a country where televisions are starving for the “sensational”, and mundane gossip becomes “breaking news”, televisions are silent. Politicians who normally race to give a statement about the most trivial of subjects are quiet. There is a virtual media black-out on the whole phenomenon, the largest peaceful popular protest since the fall of communism. Never in the past 20 years have so many people come out in the streets, never before has this country seen such a mass of people protesting peacefully, making themselves heard using state of the art tools of democracy in a country which proves to be nowhere near democratic.

The amazing thing is that all these people have organised themselves and have managed to spread their message DESPITE the complete silence of central press and major televisions. This is proof that a whole new era has begun. Watching the news that kept pouring on my Facebook timeline this evening I couldn’t help feeling in awe at this incredible network of ad-hoc reporters, at their creativity, at their connection with one-another. Artists who created banners and key-messages, photographers who took amazing pictures of every stage of the protests, freelance reporters producing video footage and of course countless people well versed in the secrets of social networks who made sure that everybody with internet access could be informed at all times of what was going on. This is the first time in Romania’s history when Internet beats TV.

Politicians and major media are puzzled. Where did all these people come from? Where were they hiding?

There have been attempts by officials to call protesters “punks”, or “hipsters” (although most who use this word have no idea of its real definition, which is far from insult and actually a compliment for protesters) who don’t know what they're talking about and to suggest that their efforts are just the tantrums of some spoiled brats with too much time on their hands. Today perhaps these same politicians and journalists form mainstream media might reconsider. There were countless families out on the streets — parents giving their young the first lesson in exercising civil rights.

Most protesters are young indeed, but they are far from being “brats” and far from being “spoiled”. And they know very well what they are talking about — much better than officials actually. Never before has the political establishment in Romania been confronted with a public opposition which is so well educated and informed and whose protests are not financed by any authority whasoever, but fuelled by a deep shared belief in something that money can’t buy.

Today Romania’s politicians have probably discovered that we do have a civil society! And it’s more powerful, coherent and united than they ever could have imagined.

I refused to vote in the last elections as a sign of protest. I felt I had nobody to vote for. I know it wasn’t the democratic thing to do, I know it was a withdrawal from what is my civil duty and I’m not proud of this. I also know that there were many others like me - people who were so tired of all the circus surrounding political life in Romania that they gave up watching TV altogether. We became the “Sleeping Beauty”, the dormant generation, the students, the masses who either have a corporate job, work as entrepreneurs or chose some liberal profession, who overwhelmingly speak at least one foreign language, who are Internet-savvy. We were the people who didn’t dump garbage on the streets, who paid our taxes, who started being interested in alternative education, protecting the environment, using a bicycle instead of a car to go to work, not thinking much about backpacking through Europe and who took it upon ourselves to build a better world for us and our children without expecting anything from the State.

We were also mostly invisible. People from this generation didn’t show up on TV involved in some scandal. These people weren’t actively involved in too many public debates because most of them had given up debating on anything. They just built a path for themselves through the jungle of Romanian society and went on with their lives. Except for missing us once every 4 years when the voting rate was so low because we didn’t show up, politicians didn’t mind us very much. Actually I believe they weren’t even aware we existed.

Tonight this has changed. Sleeping Beauty is asleep no more. My generation finally has a cause to raise its voice for and my, oh my, what a powerful voice it is!

We are making ourselves heard in the only way we know how — peacefully and relentlessly. We are not a shallow generation, we have taught ourselves the virtues of responsibility and of a job well done. This was the 8th consecutive day when people have come out on the streets to stop the Roșia Montană project, which, if it becomes reality, will exchange gold for poison for many generations to come. In a country where polticians listen only when threatened with violence, we are proving that there is another way. The way is speaking up today and tomorrow and every single day, in ever increasing numbers, until we are heard. And that we will do. Sleeping Beauty is awake, she is well rested and she will not be ignored.