The Romanian antifracking groups have received the article in the New York Times with massive disappointment for the low journalistic quality and the poor documenting of the author. What is more astonishing, he even traveled to Romania in order to write the article, which looks entirely like a piece of propaganda paid by the fracking industry, than an article in one of the biggest newspapers in the world. The article does not mirror any of the opinions of the antifracking activists, it is just a compilation of gossips and allegation which no one bothered to prove. Therefore the reaction of the Romanian antifracking Groups was quick and argumentative: an open letter was soon drafted and signed by 35 groups in Romania and outside Romania, but made out of Romanian expats. Here is the wording of this letter:
Dear Mr. Higgins,
We have read your article about the antifracking activism in Romania and we were staggered to find such lack of journalism in one of the most prestigious papers in the world. What a shame! You tried to discredit the Romanian antifrackingmovement based on pure speculations, suspicions, allegations and “circumstantial evidence” only, that yourself admit in the body of the article. Your title makes an accusation that you later refute by admitting that there’s no proof for the allegations that Russia is behind the protests against Chevron in Pungesti and Romania in general. Still, by doing so you’ve empowered the Romanian media to further discredit our justified fight for a clean environment.
The reality is that we are a group of grassroots NGOs and informal groups of citizens that fight hydrofracking on all possible lawful ways, including court actions and street protests, backed up by our own inner determination, conscience, salaries and money from fellow citizens who share our values and beliefs. We never received money from any state organization or individuals linked to state authorities of any country – even less Russia.
Moreover, our fight also consists in numerous lawsuits against Romanian authorities and fracking companies such as NIS PETROL (60% owned by GazProm), EAST WEST PETROLEUM CORPORATION, MOL HUNGARIAN OIL AND GAS PUBLIC LIMITED COMPANY, PANFORA OIL AND GAS S.R.L., S.C. EXPERT PETROLEUM S.R.L., ADX ENERGY LTD, S.C. UNIVERSAL PREMIUM S.A. and CHEVRON ROMANIA EXLORATION AND PRODUCTION SRL.
Concerning Mr. Vlasa, mayor of Pungesti, which you present as caring for the wellbeing of the community, please note that we launched a lawsuit against the Vaslui County , in order to allow for a referendum to be held in the community of Pungesti, so that mayor Mircia Vlasa may be kicked out of office for corruption and serious abuse of power.
Also, Anca Cernea mentions that circumstantial evidence confirms that Russia is behind the protest, but she as many others, ignores the antifracking activity within the areas concessions by Gazprom, or the national companies. How come you cited this obscure source and you didn’t think to use the ombudsman’s opinion or the independent APADOR report?
Concerning the early 2012 protests in Barlad, please note that they were organized by local activists with support in the electoral campaign from the Social Democrat Party, which won the elections based on the promise they will ban fracking in the area. Later protests in Barlad were organized by local activist groups only, such as the 8000 people march, in February 2013. During the National Day of Protest against hydraulic fracturing, on April 6 2014, rallies and marches took place in over 60 towns and villages across Romania, followed by two others on September 14th in Dudestii Vechi and September 28th in Cenad,where several perimeters belong to GazProm. Also, the street protests in autumn 2013 that gathered thousands in major cities across Romania, have been organized by the young urban professional, pro-western middle class activist circles – some of them having learned basic NGO organizational skills through American/Western NGO’s active in Romania.
Regarding the implied accusation that Chevron left Pungesti on protest grounds, please note that the drilling site in Pungesti has been given up after Chevron finished its test drilling this year – not after protests or attacks of protesters. Chevron has drilled in Pungesti after the area was declared special area of public safety, in December 2013, when the access for citizens was blocked. Riot police’s brutal attack on the people of Pungesti on December 2 in the attempt to protect Chevron will remain in history as the attack on democracy itself. Your article, as published a day before the anniversary of the last year’s abuse, is just disgraceful.
Such allegations are presented in mainstream media for some time; however no proof was ever presented, even though it would be easy for the authorities to verify the source of funding for the grassroots NGOs involved in this movement. How is it possible for the Romanian Secret Service, quoted in your article, to not verify this simple aspect before issuing allegations of any kind.
When Mr. Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the NATO General Secretary, declared that Russia is ‘secretly ‘working with environmentalists to oppose fracking, Romanian groups reacted and subscribed the common open letter signed by a coalition of environmental groups and associations, asking Rasmussen to put his evidence on the table or to apologize and redraw his affirmations.
Moreover, several associations and informal groups in the country and Romanian Diaspora involved in the fight against hydraulic fracturing of shale gas have addressed an open letter to the President of the Industries Commission of the Chamber of Deputies, Iulian Iancu, requesting him to make public the names of groups and individuals whom he accused of being supported and financed by Russia.
We’ve also noticed that similar accusations are in the air, stemming from the American media, against the entire European antifracking movement from Bulgaria to Latvia. Activists around the world are being attacked with very similar accusations. Recently, these types of accusations were made even towards Josh Fox, his films and his struggle in Denton Texas. Regarding this current article he appreciated that “these accusations are laughable and crazy when made here in the US. The NY Times should be ashamed!”
Throwing suspicions over truly justified protests is the real proof of obscene manipulation. If Russia is exploiting the Romanian citizens’ fight for their right to a clean environment, that doesn’t invalidate nor disowns our arguments. Justified complaints of citizens portrayed as acts of terrorism are the real threat to democracy!
Last but not least, we assure you that professional journalists wherever in the world must rely in their work on evidence, not only prosecutors, as you’ve stated in an answer to one of your critics. In case of lack of evidence a prosecutor closes the file. In lack of evidence a journalist should refrain from writing an “article”, otherwise he or she will produce pure gossip and lose his credibility. Hence, in this case it seems that you’ve missed a great opportunity NOT to write, due to lack of any evidence, about the “Russian funding” of the antifracking movement in Romania. If your approach was right, you could have as well written an article about the suspicion that fracking-supporters in Romania are being funded by America. There’s no proof either for this and we assure you that NO antifracking activist is launching any suspicions of this kind in the media.
We, a group of citizens, who have been part of the initiative and are actively fighting against hydrofracking in Romania request publishing a response to these claims in the same format and on the same viewing/publishing grounds. The Right of reply is a very well established practice in many democracies.
Looking forward for your answer,
Asociaţia ARIN, Bucureşti
Asociaţia ACAR Iaşi
Asociaţia Art-Hoc, Oradea
Asociaţia Daţi-mi România Înapoi! Galaţi
Asociaţia Ecocivica, Bucureşti
Asociaţia Ecologistă Floare de Colt, Cluj Napoca
Activiști Fără Frontiere / Activists Without Borders
Asociaţia Grupul pentru Intervenţie Civică, Braşov
Asociaţia Neuer Weg, Făgăraş
Asociaţia România fără Ei, Bucureşti
Asociaţia România Vie, Bucureşti
Asociaţia România în Tranziţie, Bucureşti
Centrul pentru Resurse Civice, Constantă
Fundația Culturală Harry Tavitian, Constantă
Fundaţia Ecotop pentru Cultură şi Educaţie Ecologistă Oradea
Aurora Community, Hunedoara
Beba Veche fără Fracturare, Timiş
Canada Save Roşia, Canada
Comunitatea Uniți Salvăm
Dudeștii Vechi fără Fracturare, Timişoara
Grupul Bârlădenilor Împotriva Extragerii Gazelor De Șist, Bârlad
Grupul de Iniţiativă al Societăţii Civile Bârlădene
Grupul fără Fracturare, Bucureşti
Grupul Quantic, Timişoara
Grupul Munchen Rettet Roşia Montana, Munchen
Grupul Viena against Fracking, Viena
Mişcarea de Rezistenta Bârlad, Bârlad
Mişcarea de Rezistenta Iaşi
Mişcarea de Rezistenta de la Pungeşti, Vaslui
Mişcarea de Rezistenta Puieşti, Vaslui
Românii din Franţa – Nu gazelor de şist, Paris
Românii din Italia împotriva exploatării gazelor de șist, Milano
Românii din Belgia împotriva exploatării gazelor de șist, Bruxelles
Vama Verde, Constanta