Pungesti – a village under siege !
25th Dec, 2013. Christmas morning, when people all over the world celebrate and enjoy, Pungesti community was questioning the democracy in Romania (EU member and Schengen Area aspiring country) and wondered when they will be listened to by the politicians they previously trusted and voted for (that so aggressively campaigned against such destructive projects before the elections) hoping they will start defending their rights and care for the country’s future rather than for their own pockets.
As soon as I entered the village I understood what was the general feeling during the communist era in Romania. I was greeted by a police road block that checked every person’s id. I felt privileged my driver and I didn’t have to put on the effort of pulling out our id’s from our back pockets. Sure it had something to do with the fact that I have announce my presence a week in advance , and to add to the communist era feeling ,authorities weren’t keen on making a bad impression. Driving around the only paved road of this village where most of the people have long crossed their 60Th birthday, I was impressed with the police forces deployed there to defend the “mighty and generous” Chevron from the fury of a handful of angry senior citizens.
I was touched by the reaction of my driver as we were cruising along. He was a bit surprised by all the commotion around saying that ” he hasn’t seen such a high number of riot police gathered in one place since the 1989 Romanian revolution against the communist regime of Nicolae Ceausescu”. Trying to have short conversations with the villagers , I was shocked at the fear installed in them by the intimidation techniques employed by the authorities. An old man, fetching water from a well down the road, was clearly scared to talk out loud. ” We were beaten and unlawfully fined by the police, we can not walk on the road in groups of more than 2-3 people, they even searched our houses in the middle of the night and threatened us” he whispered leaning in. A shop keeper, recognizing I am not a local and before I could say good morning, was quick on letting me know, upon me entering to buy a coffee, that he has no clue of what is happening in the village, he knows nothing of whom the protesters are or anything else I might be interested to know about the protests.
The people of Pungesti took matters into their own hands and started protesting against the oil giant Chevron and the shale gas fracking project so vehemently promoted by Romanian government. On 2nd Dec , 2013 and after months of protests, the first scuffle took place between protesters and riot police. The Vaslui district prefect ordered a road to be cleared after being blocked by peasants worried about their treasured land and water sources being polluted by the controversial fracking procedure that Chevron will use in their quest for profits from shale gass. On Dec 17th after the bruises (obtained during the previous encounter mainly from pushing and being dragged on the ground by police) healed , people took stand again against the police forces defending the corporation that was allowed to poison their future. This time the scuffle turned into a brawl with grandparents and environmental activists fighting riot police and managing to destroy the fence that surrounded Chevron’s installation. This opened the road for the head of Vaslui District Police (Pungesti village belongs to Vaslui District) to declare Pungesti a zone of “special security for public safety” (it is worth mentioning that the law states that such measure should be taken when on a relatively small area are concentrated illegal elements like extreme violence, drug trafficking, prostitution etc) . Ironically, the inhabitants of the village seemed to be under threat from the huge number of police forces deployed in the area that used threats and fines, arrests and all sort of wired accusations as intimidation methods to deter land owners, farmers and simple peasants from protesting.
Hunger strike is now considered the last resort as people are decided to continue the fight for their rights and freedom, for their land and precious water sources (which they harvest through old fashioned wells scattered around the village) not be polluted by the greed of a handful of corupted politicians (starting with the the district council president Dumitru Buzatu and ending with the Romanian prime minister Victor Ponta). People like Alexandru Popescu ( who took his protest to the capital city of Bucharest and now he is in his 22nd day of hunger strike) and few Pungesti residents have decided to continue their huger strike till their demands for a democratic, free and just Romania are met, Chevron stops their activities and corrupted politicians and policemen guilty of abuses against protesters are brought to justice. They hope that people will once again come together and fight for what they believe in, for a free and democratic Romania and for a healthy future for their children.