The Green and the Red

A rare sight on the always quiet streets of Cluj: a few blocks long crowd of people, as wide as the boulevard, protesting loudly. Blocking the traffic, getting the old people to come to the windows and disturbing the quiet provincial afternoon. Almost all the people were young. Some were on bikes, others with their children, some even with their dogs. Many had banners, posters, flags or plastic bottles filled with stones, an improvised instrument meant to mark their passing and their “anger”. Despite the generally common age, the affiliations to the protest are heterogeneous. But this is exactly what makes a phenomenon that goes beyond the circumscribed limits of an ecological protest against the mine project in Rosia Montana interesting.
The political protest culture in the post-communist Romania is a special chapter. The protests are rare, especially in the province cities, despite the student activism resources.
What happened with the unions, the students, the NGOs, why are they so often surprisingly passive and would rather have spontaneous protests that fade quickly? The turbulent ‘90s were replaced by the lack of political interest, absenteeism allowing the current coalition to dominate the domestic politics, although they have won only about a quarter of the electorate. The last major street protest campaign was the one that ended in Boc, the PM that lasted so long in his position supported by “Zeus”, at the time an almighty President, being overthrown. There are, however, some who have reactivated their anger, although this time the stakes are only implicitly political and the arrows directed at the authorities are not unambiguous.
Who are the protesters? One way or another, more or less assumed, they are environmentalists. The ecological sensitivity has developed lately in relation to an alternative youth culture. A difference from the political agenda of the day, a bohemian complement of a social integration otherwise successful (working for corporations, but having hippie tastes), a passion for socializing “in nature” (a combination of cultural performance, natural environment and informal meetings – the fashion of concerts in the glades, of theatre shows and film screenings in parks and of festivals far from the cities), as well as the rejection of the “dehumanization” of the environment.
Unfortunately a serious environmentalist political platform did not materialize. The small “green” parties that had appeared in the recent years have been eventually swallowed by the great PSD, who has now become the last advocate of the Rosia Montana project. Few politicians were constant in their ecological options, while many have never had such options. A presidential advisor, a UDMR leader, quit his job when Traian Basescu began to support the project himself, yet his party colleagues did not hesitate to press the Hungarian Theatre in Cluj to withdraw a play that criticized the same project. Anyway the Hungarians are closer to their co-nationals who have experienced the dramatic pollution of Tisa.
Another tendency among the protesters today is the left wing tendencies. Having anarchical tendencies at times (some protesters have bicolor red and black flags), criticizing the power of the corporations (which many of them work for, by the way), a flicker of anti-capitalist revolt, yet politically confuse enough… The proof for that are the anachronistic banners that incriminate the dictatorship of Traian Basescu, ignoring the political evolution of the last year and, thus, protecting a left-wing Prime Minister. But, perhaps it is just naivety and even inertia, because the leftists today are the same who protested, two winters ago, against the president. In their case, the Western patterns (such as “occupy” set the pace, while the “free” areas have wider symbolic connotations. If the system cannot be reformed (due to the guilty solidarity between power and capital), then, the solution are the alternative oases where the authorities have no power (kind of Christiania, the “anarchic” area in Copenhagen).
The patriotic flares should not be overlooked (the national flag waved now in Cluj just like in the time of the nationalist mayor Gheorghe Funar), animated by the lack of trust towards the foreign “exploiting” capital. From “we are not going to sell out country” from the ‘90s, here we are in front of a more concrete “we are not going to sell out gold”. The case has all the data – at the level of the collective imagination – of a metaphor of occult complicities, perfect to turn on susceptibilities. The economic dimension of the case is less important, than the political one, where the implications are less predictable. What if the today’s protests, on an already circumcised theme, become, at a certain point, deeply politicized? What if they engage a contesting anger able to cloud the image of social consensus suitable for the current comfortable political majority.
This is a risk that seems to preoccupy Victor Ponta himself, split, just for the sake of the image, between his duty as a PM and his “conscience” as a deputy (a typical populist gimmick). Maybe he is afraid not to stumble and give Crin Antonescu an unexpected advantage, in his popularity crisis. The one who used to wear T-shirts with Che Guevara – who, as a true leftist, was a nonconformist (and inefficient) president of a bank – is on the verge of losing the support of the most active part of the young urban voters.
Inheriting the PSD conglomerate, Victor Ponta is formally a kind of chief of the “green”, whose old leaders hid behind him. Will the propaganda machine of the party try to resuscitate the alliance of the “red” and the “green” (no coincidence these were the two colours on the banners of the protesters)? Or will this push the “green” towards a new left about to be born?

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