Romanian miners from Jiului Valley, South Western Transylvania, protest. Again. It’s not the first and, probably, not the last time either. This time for not being paid their salaries in time. The pay day was on February 15, but the state-owned company failed to do so.
Hundreds of miners joined the protest and by the time we post this article, a delegation of the protesters has already negotiated with the Government’s officials for having the salaries paid on February 26.
Also, following the protest, the director of the state-owned mining exploitation resigned. He declared that the problems of the company were bigger than the failure to pay the salaries in time.
Short history of the miners’ protests in Romania: “mineriade“
For understanding why the miners’ protest is a sensitive subject in Romania, you have to know a little about the history of this kind of protests in the country.
Before the Romanian Revolution, in 1990, there were about 50,000 miners working mostly in the exploitations from Jiului Valley. The proper salaries for the miners, 5-6 times bigger than the average during the communism, compensated for the harsh working conditions.
In 1990 the miners were used for the first time as a brutal mob by the politicians. In fact, the miners were used by the very Romanian president, the former communist Ion Iliescu, who summoned them to help the riot police fight back a peaceful political demonstration. Following the presidential call, thousands of coal miners came to the Capital to re-instate order. They did it by wreaking havoc by attacking, club in hands, civilians, protesters, women and students alike.
7 deaths and hundreds of injured victims is the result of what the local media calls “first mineriada“.
Afterwards, there were several other mineriade.
The biggest one, not by the number of fatalities or victims, is the one from 1999. At that time, almost 20,000 miners and other industrial workers started to march towards Bucharest. The reason? The Government wanted to start closing the unprofitable mines.
The miners literally conquered village after village, city after city, by passing by the roadblocks and the barricades built along the way by the riot police. Many officers were captured and one General from the Romanian Gendarmerie escaped the battle by hiding in the trunk of a car.
Miners were stopped only when the Romanian army intervened by placing tanks and armored vehicles on the street. The Romanian PM at the time, Radu Vasile, agreed on what the local media called “The Peace from Cozia Monastery“, by the place where the official document was signed.
After that fifth mineriada there was another one, but this time the miners were defeated and the Government could continue its plan to close the mines.
What is the situation now in Jiului Valley?
Not good at all. The Government failed to offer the restructured miners alternative jobs and the professional reconversion was never successful. Only a couple of thousand miners remained in the Valley, a place where politicians visit only during political campaigns.
For those thousand miners, the salaries on each 15 of the month mean bread on the table. The salaries are not what they used to be and the future of the mining industry looks dull enough for anybody to understand that these miners are the last ones standing in Romania.
The power of the wind, water and sun is now used to produce efficient energy and the coal mines would become mostly relics of the former glorious socialist industry.
The miners’ protest is not only for salaries. It is rather a protest against the authorities for their failure to do something for “the Valley“, for the people living there, for all those who believed in the promises of the politicians every four years, during the election campaign.
Is this protest going to be a mineriada once again? Absolutely not. There are too few miners to join the protests and too many riot police forces. Yet, any protest from the Valley brings back unpleasant memories for the Romanian political class and everybody wants the spark to be put out before becoming a fire.
The future of the mining industry in Romania
There are only a few mining exploitation left and only a few thousand miners still extract coal from the underground. It is not the dream job, not even for those living in the Jiului Valley, but at this time it is the only way to feed their families.
No doubt about it, the decline of the industry is visible: from 50,000 coal miners in 1990 to only around 4,000 now. In the future, most of the mines will be closed for good. Coal is not considered an efficient fuel any longer and its place is already being taken by renewables.
But closing the mines doesn’t mean closing the Valley. The Valley should evolve, the miners’ families should have alternative places to work at, the future has to land here as well. Some consider the Valley as a future touristic destination, some others see it as a Silicon Valley of Romania. Either way, the locals don’t have to give up and the authorities have to start thinking about the long term future of the people living here. Compensatory salaries and political promises will never bring back the satisfactory life the miners had.
If you want to get more than a glimpse of the life the former miners experience in the Valley, of their thoughts and of some of the solutions for a proper professional reconversion, you can find out by accessing this post from Euronews.