ManiFEST Press Release, First Edition: “Don’t Mess with Us”
Bucharest, 12th September 2014
For a few days, between 6th and 8th of September, the village of Puiesti (Romania) was uplifted from an unobtrusive Vaslui village to a center of activism. Several organizations and informal action groups, including “FrackFree Group” – Bucharest”, “Civic intervention Group” – Braşov, “Resistance Group Puieşti” and “Resistance Group Pungeşti”, with the support of groups such as “Oastea lui Ştefan” from Vaslui, “Resistance Bârlad” and volunteers from all over Romania and Europe (Greece, UK, Bulgaria, Rep. Moldova), gathered to create the first edition of the ManiFEST festival (for a world without fracking), entitled playfully but strongly: “Cu noi nu te PUIesti” (Don’t mess with us). The festival took place in a symbolic space, owned by village councillor David Roma, located close to the perimeter where Chevron holds all permits required to build an exploration well for shale gas.
Just like the activists, dozens of pro-bono musicians gathered from hundreds of miles away, sometimes refusing other lucrative contracts, in order to accept the invitation of the organizers, believing that music and art in general can spark a revolution. Performers of all ages and genres went on stage, including artists from the Vaslui area (Afty, Rotaru, Gotic, No Name Band) and renowned artists, such as Harry Tavitian, Mihai Iordache, Maria Raducanu, Urban Area, El Negro, Soul Serenade, Aud Band, Clay Windham, Fine it’s Pink, Baba Dochia, Stema, Crowd Control, Lish, Taissia, all relaying the same message: “We don’t want Fracking in Romania!” Romanian artists also received reinforcements from abroad, from the band Gologan of Sofia (Bulgaria) and Frances Leader, a well-known activist and singer from the UK anti-fracking camps, all joining to express solidarity with the struggle of the Romanians against fracking. On the last day of the festival, Kartier theatre group from Bacau took to the stage and played MMA- an play with an explicit antifracking plot.
All the musicians and artists supported from day one the idea of this festival, being pleased with the result:
“The festival has been great! With such genuine people aware of the hell that awaits us, with the love and dedication which animated the organizers and participants, greedy companies will have a hard time here. With courage and dignity, our message to Chevron was: Don’t mess with us! This was the general state of mind, whether it was the villagers of Puiesti, or friends from across the country who joined us at the festival to enjoy the music, or the volunteers who made the impossible possible in achieving this event (Romanian and foreign environmental activists, fellow musicians) “(Harry Tavitian, jazz player).
“We thank the organizers and volunteers who work tirelessly, sacrificing time and convenience (taking into account the spartan conditions that they had at the festival). With their help, more and more people are informed and are united towards a country with values other than short-term profit. “(Laurentiu Gondiu, AUD Band)
“We were very happy to be part of this extraordinary event. The feeling was great, full of friendship and devotion (to the cause). We really enjoyed the quality of the music – all bands were top-notch and very motivated by the frack free world cause. Also, we enjoyed the friendliness and warmth of the local people. We hope that your fight will have a happy end and that land, water and air around Puieşti will remain Frack free. We stand Together for a world without fracking! (Petar Tchouhov, Gologan, Bulgaria)
Being an activist festival, ManiFEST also focused on discussions and presentation workshops, as well as community activation sessions. Activists from all over Romania, including a group of locals from Pungeşti, located 45 km north of Puiesti, recounted their experiences on hydraulic fracturing and sent messages of encouragement to the Puiesti community who joined the discussions, especially on the 7th and 8th September. In addition to hydraulic fracturing, the workshops also addressed related topics such as renewable energy (Department of Energy Alternative of Digital Transylvania), traditional/self-sustainable agriculture (Willy Schuster, Bio Moşna) as well as the Greek Save Skouries campaign against cyanide mining and the economical crisis in Greece and the UK antifracking fight.
Among the locals, several local councillors were also present (11 of the 13 councillors of the village are against hydraulic fracturing), as well as teachers and engineers who have all committed to participate in informing and enabling the community to block the installation of the Chevron well(s) on their lands. The activists and local community representatives have strengthened their ties with the goal of having an early warning mechanism that should prevent the recurrence of the outrageous human rights breaches in Pungeşti. As with Pungeşti, the locals of Puiesti are fully aware of the need to fight by all peaceful means to protect their land and water. Villagers mentioned that that water from the neighbouring village of Gâlţeşti became cloudy, with a local women complaining of skin irritation associated with water consumption, which she blamed on the seismic tests done in the region last year. The activists have pledged to investigate the matter and support the community’s efforts beyond the festival by informing and activating it.
The festival was organized with the support of Puiesti Town Hall, with donations from individuals in the country and Diaspora Romanians, who again have shown their support in the fight against fracking in Romania. Although the organizers contacted various companies for sponsorship, no reply was received concerning the reasons for their refusal. However, everyone understood that due to multiple pressures on all levels regarding the issue of shale gas and hydraulic fracturing, companies are reluctant to associate their names with this topic for fear of reprisals from state institutions, despite privately supporting the cause.
Although organized in record time and with very limited resources (both in financial and human ressources terms) the three-day festival had more than 1,000 visitors, with various percentages each day (mostly activists on Saturday, a balanced crowd of activists and locals on Sunday and mostly locals on Monday). The anti-fracking activists came from all over the country and from the diaspora (Belgium, France, Italy, Germany, Canada), youth from the Moldavian region, especially from the two major cities in the area, Barlad and Vaslui, and of course, representatives of the Puiesti community.
After the festival, a permanent anti-fracking camp was established on the land where the festival took place, with the support of activists and locals. Also, it has been decided to drill a water well on the land where the festival took place. Beyond its symbolic meaning, the water well will allow for water samples to be collected before and after the drilling, in the unfortunate event that the rig is installed, despite strong community opposition.
The Festival organizers consider this first edition of ManiFEST a successful cultural-activist precedent to be replicated across the country and the world, in places where there is a need to activate and inform local communities, and where support from the local officials already exists, as in Puiesti.
A video catching the atmosphere of the festival with some interventions in English from the organisers, as well as a video explaining the idea behind the festival.
You can see photos from the event here, here, and here.
You can read an article about the Festival here.
The ManiFEST team
Maria Olteanu, Grupul ”Fără Fracturare”: 0040 723 129 080
Hetti Benedek, Grupul de Intervenție Civică (GIC) : 0040 734 596 089
Festival site: http://www.festivalmanifest.ro