Radu Magdin is chief executive of SmartLink Communications, a trans-national communications consultancy based in Bucharest. He worked for five years in Brussels (2007-2012) for the European Parliament, EurActiv and Google.
Dr. Demir Murat Seyrek is managing partner of Glocal Communications, a Brussels-based European affairs and strategic communications consultancy, and an independent analyst on European affairs.
The Gezi Park demonstrations in Turkey and the Rosia Montana ones in Romania have not only attracted global attention but also shed light on previously unknown faces of Turkey and Romania. Although the Gezi Park demonstrations are politically more deeply rooted due to the discontent of a part of Turkish society over Prime Minister Erdogan’s policies and intolerant approach, both movements show striking similarities including, but not limited to, the environmental motives behind them, the demonstrators’ anti-system messages, the role of social media, and the profile of the protestors and the values they support.
The Gezi Park demonstrations changed social and political dynamics in Turkey and its echoes will probably be witnessed in 2014, when Prime Minister Erdogan will face two elections, local and presidential. However, although similar demonstrations are now regular in Turkey, their scale cannot be compared to the mass demonstrations that took place in June. As far as Romania is concerned, demonstrations are still ongoing. Over 7.000 people protested this latest Sunday in Bucharest against the project meant to transform Rosia Montana into the biggest cyanide-based gold exploration in Europe. This is not the first protest and will not be the last, not until the project will know a final resolution, one way or another. If the Gezi Park gave birth to a spontaneous protest in May, this September in Romania we are witnessing the latest activation of the environmental community around the Rosia Montana issue; the movement has been active before, for several years, but not just as vocal. The difference now was the "surprise" - the fact that the Government decided to send the project to the Parliament although the parties who lead it (the social-democrats and the liberals) mentioned in the election manifesto that the project would be blocked.
The profile of protestors and their social media supporters are quite similar in Turkey and Romania, in that they are dominated by young and well-educated individuals. Compared to the other protests that took place in Bucharest, in January/February 2012, this protests have different people on board: mostly middle class, well connected in terms of technology, and a lot of young people. Similar to Turkish protestors, they have jobs, are decent and do not wave economic frustrations. Rule of law is more important, as well as keeping political promises. At the same time, they are careful not to see their topic join -and dilute- with others: the crowd did not join another meeting directed against the nomination of new anti-corruption prosecutors.
Social media has been a common tool in both cases. Facebook and Twitter played a key role in facilitating the protests but also in promoting the issue on a national and international level. More than 17 million tweets sent in the first 10 days of the protests in Turkey, through #occupygezi and its Turkish versions. Although numbers are lower for #rosiamontana and #unitisalvam due to different reasons including the limited international media attention, the effect of social media was equally significant in the case of Romania, in that there is a lot of social sympathy towards the protesters in the online world. Messages, pictures and videos are very actively diffused through social media both in Turkey and Romania.
Demonstrations in both countries have succeeded to create a fundamental mentality shift, especially among young people. This mentality shift is described in Turkey with the phenomenon of “Gezi Park Spirit”, a societal phenomenon which increased up to a high extent the young Turkish people’s belief in their own power. Prior to the Gezi Park movement, there had always been a certain degree of discontent within Turkish society over national developments but people had never believed they could actually change the situation. The Gezi Park movement, however, created this new Turkish self-confidence, which made these people believe that they are not just a small minority and that if they raise their voices, they can actually change things in their country. It is not clear whether Rosia Montana demonstrations will have an impact on the final outcome but it is possible to talk about a similar mentality change and “spirit” in Romania. Young Romanians discovered their power and they now believe that they are not a small minority in the country. This may also have long term social and political consequences for Romania.
Although they have many aspects in common, the demonstrations in Turkey and Romania also differ in a number of ways. One of these differences consists in the methods used by protestors. Interestingly, there is no "standing man" in Bucharest, quite the contrary, people are on the move: they march in the capital and other cities, through different neighborhoods, and only in the end gather downtown, in the most symbolic place, University Square. The protests are not daily, there is a weekly Sunday meeting; this helps because it brings focus and mobilization, not fatigue. Innovative methods used by Turkish protestors, such as “pots and pans protest” and “rainbow coloured stairs” are not used too much by Romanian protestors, although some of them have plastic bottles and carry banners with environmental or even political messages. The fact that the Turkish government, unlike Romania, used a highly intolerant approach towards protesters, played a crucial role in the emergence of such innovative protests.
Another point of difference is that Gezi area inhabitants were against the project, people in Rosia Montana apparently are not, under the lure of RMGC (the gold exploatation company) promises; the movement against the project is led by few of the people who live there, regrouped with other environmental activists and, more generally, by people who want a clean Romania and who do not want cyanide used in the gold extraction process. Looking at the messages, RMGC continues with its jobs mantra, and the protesters with their green one. Each has tried to look into the other's arguments, but in the end the company speaks about the people there and the money the State could get, the protesters about leaving Rosia Montana alone: no cyanide for us and our kids, not in our backyard.
In terms of politics, the movement in Romania remains anti-systemic, people there do not feel represented by any political party. It did not degenerate either, yet, into an anti-governmental protest. What helps this situation is governmental attitude, socialist PM Ponta was not defiant, quite the contrary, even seemed to project a dual image, which attracted some criticism: "I support the project as PM, but I would vote against in Parliament as an MP".
Another difference from #occupygezi, which was solved as a victory of demonstrations, is that #rosiamontana or #unitisalvam is watching actively the next step, which is not governmental, but in the Parliament. There was also a group hug of the Parliament (which was quite an effort if you consider it is the largest building in the world after the Pentagon), and a lot of "call/email your MP" lobbying from both sides. A lot of pressure was also on the media landscape, with accusations that RMGC pumped a lot of money in marketing; even like this, one cannot speak of media censure since some media channels, as well as the online media, reported on the protests. The big disappointment in terms of reporting came the night / day after the first big march (estimated at over 10-15.000 people in Bucharest), when there was almost no coverage, but subsequently the coverage became larger. Problems in Romanian media cannot be compared with the self-censorship in Turkish media, especially in the beginning of mass demonstrations in and around Taksim Square. Although some TV channels started to report the demonstrations extensively after a couple of days, limited coverage by majors news channels, such as NTV and CNN Turk, remained a major issue.
Regardless of the similarities and differences of both protest movements, one thing is very clear; namely that these movements mark the development of European values in Turkey and Romania through Generation Y. Although Romania is a member of the EU and Turkey a candidate, both countries are continuously being criticized by different EU circles over issues and concerns in terms of democracy, the rule of law, accountability etc. However, the demonstrations in these two countries and the messages given by the demonstrators caught many Europeans by surprise. Protestors in both countries gave an unmistakable sign regarding the development of European values among a new generation of young Turks and Romanians.
This development is not solely crucial for the future of these two countries but it could also be decisive in tackling the existing prejudices about Turkey and Romania, especially in the Western Europe where these two countries are seen as “black sheep”. At this very moment in the history of their respective countries, young Turks and Romanians hold a vast potential for changing their countries’ image within Europe, as well as for transforming internal social, economic and political dynamics. This is indeed very good news for the “Old Europe”, which could certainly use the dynamism and enthusiasm of young Turks and Romanians for the revival of the European Union. These two countries could indeed be a chance for a new and more dynamic Europe."