Monday, December 9, 2013

Honoring Mandela and Other Inconvenient Truths

Two very different stories grabbed my attention over the weekend: RT’s report on Romanian farmers’ opposition to fracking, and talking heads on MSNBC arguing about who was for or against Mandela’s release from prison, given that his party, the ANC (which has ruled Africa since his presidency) was considered a terrorist organization.

What have these two stories in common?  People power and how it is perceived.  Benefitting from years of campaigning in the U.S. against fracking, illustrated in documentaries such as Gas Land by Josh Fox, farmers in a remote corner of Romania, the least developed of the former satellite nations, ruled for twenty-four years by one man, forced oil giant Chevron to suspend its activities:

“Chevron can today confirm it has suspended activities in Silistea, Pungesti commune, Vaslui County as a result of unsafe conditions generated by unlawful and violent protester activities,” Chevron said in a statement.
All over the United States, people have been ‘fighting’ big oil and gas over fracking, with little or no success.  However Romanians, Bulgarians and other Europeans have not been content to sign petitions and organize demonstrations, they have camped out on fracking sites.  
Greenpeace launched an anti-fracking campaign in Great Britain in October, holding workshops in civil disobedience, direct action and other campaign strategies that attracted about 1,000 people, including some from Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Poland.
But protesters in Poland had already fought Chevron to a standstill over the summer. While shooting a follow-up to his film Drill, Baby, Drill, about fracking in Poland and Pennsylvania, Lech Kowalski pointed out that Polish farming families had survived the Nazis, then the Soviets, and saw themselves as partisans fighting for the land, blocking the entrances and ready to throw Molotov cocktails.

The Bulgarian anti-fracking campaign was more peaceful, as big business claimed it was all about Russia losing its gas contracts, but farmers had the traditions of the land going for them and ultimately, theBulgariam government withdrew a previously granted permit to Chevron.

Local bans against fracking have been enacted in Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Ireland, Switzerland, and France's highest legal body, the Constitutional Council, approved a 2011 ban on fracking passed by parliament. 

The worldwide anti-fracking campaign illustrates the difference between activists in the US and those in other countries, whose first-hand experience of war and ideological struggle determines a grittier form of activism.

Similarly, having had to organize resistance to invasion and occupation that involved acts of terrorism, Europeans were more inclined to view the ANC as freedom fighters, than terrorists.  Britain, though bombed, did not suffer occupation, and together with the US was the only country aside from South Africa itself, to have officially considered the ANC as a terrorist organization. 

The ways in which history weighs on the contemporary behavior of nations and peoples affect many different issues, all of which are ultimately about the extent to which ordinary people experience their inherent rights as human beings.


  1. Nice. Encouraging news from Eastern Europe.

    1. Even Eastern Europe is way ahead of us when it comes to meaningful political action!