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"United We Save Rosia Montana" – First Five Days in Bucharest

What was supposed to be one protest turned into an ongoing movement, so here is a summary of what happened in Bucharest over these first five days. There have been major protests on this issue in other cities as well, the biggest on the first day being in Cluj and Iasi, while on the third day at least three cities actually had more people attend than Bucharest, but I’m focusing on what I know from here. I must also specify that I left around 10:15 PM on each day, so I only took part in the early moments of the “occupation” of a piece of road on the first two days and none of it during the rest, since the “troop movements” started later then.

Day one: With some 10000 people saying they’ll attend on Facebook, we expected the usual turnout of around 5% and were thinking we’ll be sure to get 500, but even 1000 would be lucky. However, there were probably more than that already present at the announced start time of 5 PM and two hours later, when some pushed on into the road, our numbers were around 3000. That caught the gendarmes completely unprepared as well and they were overwhelmed by our numbers, retreating to keep us into a section of the road and diverting traffic elsewhere.
After a short amount of time standing on that section of road, we started marching to the Government building, the gendarmes content to simply keep us on one side of the road as our numbers grew to probably over 4000 before reaching our destination, where we protested for a while in front of a thick line of gendarmes backed by a double line in full riot gear right in front of the fence. A couple of shots of tear gas were fired, but that only happened when a group tried to keep marching further from there, so it actually aided us in keeping everyone together until it was eventually decided to march back to University Square.
Just before returning to the fountain area there, which is the usual meeting place, a line of people simply sat down on the street and shouted for everyone to do the same, which most did within seconds. The gendarmes were again caught unprepared and quickly decided to simply allow us to sit there, only deciding to fine one person around 2:30 AM, when there were only about 200 left. That caused the rest to split, some rushing ahead to see what was going on, and offered them an opportunity to form another line that divided the group into two, leading the people to decide to leave by 3 AM.

Day two: Around 2000 people gathered at the fountain and by 9 PM, so two hours after the new start time, when another attempt to push into the street was made, gendarmes had surrounded the area with a triple line in that direction and a double one on the sidewalk, left and right. That resulted in the group of protesters moving around for about an hour, trying to find a way to break through, until eventually we were allowed to take the side roads that are behind the fountain and come back out on the other side of the intersection, on Elisabeta boulevard.
That can’t be considered any sort of victory, as the move was completely allowed by the gendarmes, but it nevertheless resulted in another night spent on the street. The last people left at 4 AM, though that apparently was only to spite the gendarmes who attempted to fine one of the 30 or so people who were left at 3 AM, as otherwise that group said they were planning to leave within at most 15 minutes at that point.

Day three: I’ll say some 1500 people gathered around the fountain, and only a part of them protested during the evening, since discussion groups were also organized and those who wanted to attend broke away from the rest to do so. This obviously marked a switch in strategy, everything becoming far more tactical, and the way in which those who were still in the area after I left broke through proved it.
While I was there, I didn’t notice any sign of people trying to break through the thick lines of gendarmes, but shortly after I left it appears that hundreds of protesters broke up in small groups and left in various directions, as if they were going home, only to regroup within minutes behind the gendarmes, on the street, and offer those who were left around the fountain the opportunity to join them in the momentary confusion, resulting in another march.
The gendarmes attempted to stop the march at various points, but the protesters broke up in groups repeatedly and used side roads or narrow passages until they were finally stopped for good in Revolution Square, where they spent the night until around 3 AM. The gendarmes initially tried to push through, for the first time issuing a warning and having a van try to enter the occupied area, but after one man stood in front of it and another set himself down right in front of its wheels, they gave up and were content to simply keep the protesters from pushing on further during the night.

Day four: People were slow to gather this time, perhaps not even 100 being present around the fountain at 7 PM and the number growing by about 300 per hour until around 10:20 PM, when the call was made to try to march again, after the discussion groups had finished for the night. Some, myself included, went in the opposite direction and were allowed to leave at that time by the gendarmes, but the remaining roughly 1000 people were blocked as they tried first one and then the other side road, being forced to return to the fountain area.
Once back there, the protesters tried to simply overpower the gendarmes, a small number of more violent individuals causing some incidents and one person even throwing a bottle. The gendarmes gave warnings that they will respond in force and a small quantity of pepper spray was used, but people nevertheless managed to occupy a small part of the street and sat down, the situation remaining largely calm until 11:20 PM, when at least 1000 others suddenly flooded in behind the gendarmes and occupied the same section of Elisabeta boulevard we had been allowed to occupy on day two, forcing their lines to break in order to deal with the new issue.
After that, most protesters gathered on Elisabeta, even more people coming in even later, so at one point there were close to 3000 people on the street and some attempts to once again occupy the section of road right in front of the fountain were made. Those were taken care of by the gendarmes relatively quickly and without any violence, however, and the night ended earlier than before, nearly everyone leaving by 2:15 AM.

Day five: On top of the usual protest around the fountain, where perhaps around 1000 people gathered, another group apparently independently decided to gather in front of the Palace Hall, where some of the classical music concerts that make up the George Enescu Festival take place. This second group was initially very small, but eventually grew to over 100 people and started marching back towards University Square, blocking the road completely unopposed, though when two gendarmes caught up with them and kindly asked them to at least leave one lane free they agreed to do so.
Once this smaller group reached University Square, they walked through an area set aside for another small festival that takes place there, then marched through the Old Town and split into smaller groups that sort of played tag with the gendarmes, offering the diversion needed for the ones from the fountain area to break through and once again occupy that section of Elisabeta boulevard, despite the gendarmes attempting to stop them from doing so this time around.
Once the gendarmes backed away, the situation seemed to have calmed down for a while, but eventually a call was made pointing out that this area is as much of a “pen” as the one around the fountain, being a place where the gendarmes willingly allow the protesters to gather, so they tried to break through again, perhaps around 50 people managing to make it out as the gendarmes once again used some pepper spray.
This small group marched on unopposed to Constitution Square, in front of the Parliament building, where perhaps a few hundred others joined them later, as the gendarmes seemed to not even bother with them. Calls were made for those occupying Elisabeta boulevard to leave in small groups and join them as well, but many didn’t listen, seeing as Constitution Square is a “dead” zone when it comes to protests, so two areas were occupied by significantly smaller groups than on previous nights, and everything seems to have ended around 2 AM, though I heard that a small number of people stayed in Constitution Square until later, protesting in the middle of a large empty space surrounded by huge empty buildings.

Otherwise, a sustained and largely successful effort is being made to maintain focus on the Rosia Montana issue despite all attempts made by the authorities to dilute the message and create diversions, and current plans call for the protests to continue as long as necessary. The next major step will be this Sunday, a week after the first protest, and in Bucharest it will take the form of multiple marches, one starting from each of the city’s six sectors, meeting at the statues in University Square, then going to the fountain and moving on from there together, assuming we will manage to do so.

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