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Protest Report: World Environment Day and Solidarity with Turkey

Sunday’s first event meant to show solidarity with the Turkish protesters felt quite weird, since it was just a few of us joining members of the Turkish community from here, and those definitely knew why they were there. It wasn’t more than two or three minutes past 5 PM when I got there and they were already gathered, with flags and banners and chanting in earnest, but I had to wait a few more minutes and then go around the group before I recognized three regulars from other protests and joined them, mainly just sitting and watching, since we didn’t understand anything. At one point, a girl started telling me something in Turkish, which made me just stare at her, but since after that she climbed on the fence I was standing on the bottom part of and leaned on me, I assume she was asking if she could do that to take some pictures or something.
It was probably around 5:30 PM when Claudiu and a few others finally arrived and made their presence known, with a couple of chants in Romanian which were met with applause by the Turks, so I made my way over to them at that point and joined in the second brief round of chants, a few minutes later. That was pretty much the end of our involvement, however, since even they seemed rather confused and largely just talked among themselves until 5:45 PM, when the police asked everyone to clear the area, seeing as the event had only been announced the day before and therefore had no approvals or official protocol… Which sure makes me wonder why can’t our events, announced a week or more in advance, organized by NGOs and with leaders which should be quite experienced by now, turn out like that as well…

Speaking of our events, Wednesday’s World Environment Day one was quite a fiasco, seeing as the actual protest part basically didn’t happen at all. It also taught me that going there with a good sign is a very bad idea if you don’t want too much attention, especially when nothing much is happening and people aren’t exactly otherwise occupied.
The last version of the schedule, which was changed multiple times and caused a fair amount of confusion, mentioned some sort of exposition on environmental themes between 4 PM and 9 PM, with the “Environment Night” event, which was advertised as a funeral ceremony for the environment in Romania, apparently between 5:30 PM and 6 PM and the otherwise unapproved protest tentatively scheduled between 6 PM and 8 PM, though everyone knew people were more likely to arrive after 7 PM. Still, when I got there at 5:30 PM, work on setting up the few items that were supposed to be on display was a long way from being completed and the only signs of the “funeral ceremony” were a funeral wreath, a small coffin and a cross made of plastic pipes that was just then being pieced together with duct tape, so I just wandered around and got bored while nothing happened for quite a long time.
I don’t remember when something that was supposed to be a press conference started, but I’m quite sure it was at least 6:30 PM, maybe more like 7 PM, and the name was rather inappropriate due to the almost complete lack of media presence. Since that seemed to be the official, staged part of the event and that was when they at least mentioned anything of the scheduled funeral, I guess this was what the “Environment Night” ended up being, probably due to the otherwise entirely expected complete lack of interest in the ceremony they had mentioned, as I didn’t see people show up in mourning clothes and with candles and other funeral props, as they had asked. The whole thing pissed me off from the beginning anyway, seeming like nothing more than a tasteless and pointless attempt at dark humor which would do more harm than good, so I went there determined to let my anger show in some way if it’ll actually be acted out and was actually rather pleased when it wasn’t, but overall it’s still something to file under failures. The same goes for certain moments of the press conference itself, but this is still largely a personal post and that requires a fair amount of background information related to the movement and the NGOs involved, so I won’t get into that.
It was only after this part that I pulled out my sign, and almost immediately started having people take photos of it. Actually, at first it was an older woman who congratulated me for the side she read of it, then looked at the other (mouse over for translations), told me to turn it over because that was even better, and started calling those she could see with cameras to take photos of it. A little later, she tried to pull me to the front so somebody could “film” me, she said, even though I later realized she was still only referring to a photographer. Either way, when I resisted being pulled forward, she asked for my sign and I gave it to her so she could be “filmed” with it, and then she told me that God made me write that after giving it back. Meant to say that I’m not Christian, but just smiled and walked away, only to have her follow me to congratulate me yet again and tell me to keep it before finally leaving me alone.
After that, we were all largely just wandering around and waiting for the start of a protest that nobody seemed willing to initiate, so people had nothing better to do than talk to each other and, in case of those with cameras, take pictures of signs. Obviously, this meant that I wasn’t left alone after getting rid of that woman, but instead I had several more people ask to take pictures of it, congratulate me for it or ask whether I came up with it myself. As such, it was quite a relief when Alex finally decided to pick up the loudspeaker and say something, but unfortunately he was angry when he got there and became even more so when seeing the low turnout and the lack of initiative, so instead of trying to lead us he basically just ranted about freedom of expression and lashed out at both those who didn’t attend and those who were attending but not doing much else, which of course just pissed nearly everyone off. The fact that some other guy got in the middle of it and started a rant largely praising Communism and Ceausescu, appearing unaffected by nearly everyone else trying to boo him away, definitely didn’t help, but by that point I was largely just wandering around yet again, which I kept doing for a while longer, getting more and more uncomfortable whenever somebody else was taking a picture, until I eventually left at 8:30 PM.

The last event was the properly scheduled and planned one in support of the Turkish protesters, which took place yesterday morning, from 11 AM, in front of the Turkish embassy from here. As expected, considering the time, the turnout was low, though still well above the few people that’d have taken part in any such protest until a year and a half ago, but this and the fact that it was actually organized by a Romanian NGO meant that the participants seemed rather evenly split between Romanians and Turks this time around. It also was quite quiet, probably because we were stretched out on the sidewalk and mixed, so neither the Romanians nor the Turks could keep chants going and nobody seemed to try to start any in English.
It was definitely far less uncomfortable, however, even if I felt rather out of place there, not standing next to anyone I knew, and it seemed like all the media was there. In fact I just tried to sit towards the end of the designated protest area that wasn’t obviously in plain view of the many cameras, so a few steps away from where most participants had gathered, but there was a girl who arrived after a little while and exchanged a few words with me, which also meant that I could sign the petition they were passing around, as she asked to read it and I could do that too, because I wouldn’t have signed something without reading first and I couldn’t get myself to ask for the text instead of simply the sheet to sign on that was passed around. She moved away after a bit and spent the rest of the time talking to one of the photographers who were there, but it was a comfortable interaction that made me feel slightly less out of place and kept it manageable until 12:05 PM or so, when we all left, even though the previous day had already taken a whole lot out of me.
What didn’t sit well with me was that there were people with very young children there, but that certainly also provided a rather interesting moment when the one who had brought her very young daughter along simply started breastfeeding. At first she turned towards the wall and seemed to try to hide somewhat, but that happened just when I was looking that way and I therefore got an eyeful of boobs before quickly turning away. After a short while she seemed to give up on trying to hide, however, so she simply turned back around and kept right on breastfeeding, which put the camera crews and the photographers in a rather amusing predicament.

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