Published September 2, 2011
There is no paved road to Eugen David’s house in Rosia Montana. If you want to find him, you have to walk up the hill, on a path of gravel and grass, across the blooming meadows. On the way there you will probably get distracted: buttercups and vetch, yarrow and chicory and clover, dandelions, strawberries, stinging nettle and wild thyme. White and purple and green and yellow and red.
Keep walking. A dry stone wall, boulders strewn about, runs on the side. Under a copse of trees hides an ancient cemetery, crosses overgrown with mosses and ferns. A brook gurgles nearby. Keep walking, but watch out for the cow patties. A few more twists in the path and there, behind a squeaky garden gate, stands his house.
Eugen David is not some kind of Romantic poet. You will not see him in a pensive mood, with a pencil in his hand.
When I first meet him, he is chopping wood, sweat gleaming on his face. He wears threadbare work pants, a yellow Greenpeace t-shirt and a beige bucket hat. “I’ll be there in a minute,” he shouts in lieu of a greeting and keeps on chopping like a maniac. The giant shed behind him is stacked up to the brim with firewood.
A few minutes later he joins me at a rough-hewn wooden table in the middle of the yard. Without a word, he proceeds to pour himself, consecutively, three glasses of water from a pitcher, and downs each of them ravenously. “I read somewhere it’s good to drink a lot of water.” Then he lights up a cigarette. “These are Ukrainian cigarettes,” he tells me. “I don’t like paying duty to a corrupt Romanian state.”
Eugen David, 46, is the president of Alburnus Maior, the Romanian NGO most actively involved in the opposition against the gold mining project in Rosia Montana. He is something of a legend among the local environmental community—an ordinary small-time farmer who has taken a stand against a multi-billion dollar corporation.
Without a college degree or any special language skills, without even knowing how to use a computer (the website and e-mail of his NGO are run by other activists), Eugen is nevertheless a formidable foe. He has a wily smile and a homespun philosophy. “As long as I have my land,” he says, “I am the owner of this world. And I am very strong. And I can't be manipulated. The land gives me the power and strength to rely on myself.”
Eugen doesn’t own a whole lot: a two-story house, a vegetable garden, a few acres of pasture and a few acres of forest, ten cows, some pigs and chickens, a draft horse with a cart (“my Mercedes”) and a complementary sleigh for the winter months. His property, however, happens to lie in the area of the proposed mining development, and the project cannot proceed until the mining company acquires all of it.
Eugen would not sell. There is a stubborn peasant streak in him, mixed with a good measure of cunning and native wit. His two dogs are called Greenpeace and Sorosica (the female version of George Soros). He chuckles every time he mentions the mining project. Even his small eyes seem to be laughing.
“The project could be the best project in the world, but if it interferes with my life, I can’t accept it. You don’t need to know all the technical terms to oppose something like that. Every time I meet the company managers I ask them a question. ‘What will you do if I refuse to leave?’ They never have the answer. They have answers to the complicated questions, but not to the simple ones.”
Eugen doesn’t care about arguments, one way or the other: number of jobs, the economy, the environment, historical monuments—all the buzz words the two sides are hurling at each other. He doesn’t care about getting a real Mercedes, a bigger house, a new fridge, a plasma TV. He seems to operate beyond modern systems of thought, but this is precisely his strength. Everything he needs, he already has. The mining company relies on the assumption that consumerist desire drives every person alike, shareholders in New York and citizens of Rosia Montana, but Eugen David seems to occupy a separate universe with impenetrable boundaries.
“I have a principle,” he says with his usual chuckle. “The less informed I am, the less disinformed I am. I follow my instincts. I watch TV only to get informed by disinformation.”
It is impossible not to take a liking to Eugen David. There is something earthy and primal in him, his faced tanned by the sun and his hands calloused by labor in the fields, yet there is a philosopher in him as well, and a pretty good one at that. “I learned philosophy with my skin,” he says, and immediately launches into a discussion of democracy and individual rights. For him, and for others like him, the case of Rosia Montana is not just a controversial mining project, but a litmus test for the principles of democracy and law in post-communist Romania.
Eugen might as well be the Romanian Thomas Jefferson.
“We don't have original democracy here in Romania. The way I understand American democracy is that it is based on the rights of the individual. If the individual is strong, he can build a strong community. I don't care about percentages. Ninety percent opposed or 90 percent supporting the mining project. I'm an individual and I have my rights. If they change the laws to deny me my rights, then they are welcome to come and kick me out of here."
And what if they decide to forcefully relocate him?
“If they try to forcefully relocate me, I'll go to Ceausescu’s grave, light a candle, and say ‘Comrade Ceausescu, I'm sorry we killed you. You were right and we were wrong,’” he says, referring to Nicolae Ceausescu, Romania’s last communist dictator.