Anniversary update: for ten years we have been giving strength to Romanian citizenship at the Public Participation Awards Gala.
Anniversary update: for ten years we have been giving strength to Romanian citizenship at the Public Participation Awards Gala.
April 17 marks 10 years since we first held the Public Participation Awards Gala. Years in which public participation in Romania has increased and especially has shown us many nuances of civic involvement. The Gala is the stage on which people have been coming up since 2009 to show us that the power of civility is not abstract. The winners of the gala inspire us and show us exactly every year, how they influenced public decisions for positive change in communities. Changes with a long-term impact that build power for citizens in relation to public administration.
10 years ago, the stories of public participation that we awarded at the Gala were rather misfits, and the trust in the power of the citizens was barely making its place. Meanwhile, civic initiatives and advocacy campaigns have proliferated, and civic power in Romania has become increasingly visible and diverse.
Right now, we live a social and political context in which the power relationship between citizens and public administration is deeply disproportionate. Now, perhaps more strongly than ever, we need to show that the civic efforts we all make will bring the long-term change we need. Although it may be difficult for us to see the results of these 10 years of activism, they do exist and have clear effects on our lives: a better law for health, education or social protection, a paved road, public sources of clean water in a village – these are very relevant for communities.
10 years after the first gala, we applaud once again a small part of the winners of the previous editions for consistency, continuity in preserving civic causes, courage and especially for inspiration.
Anniversary update: Public Participation Awards Gala.
Prize winner of 2009: Kogayon Association
In 2009, the Kogayon Association received an award at the Public Participation Awards Gala, following a 10-month campaign that led to the adoption of a law banning hunting in national parks.
‘Since then, we have continued our work in areas such as biodiversity conservation, management of protected natural areas and sustainable development, including through public participation.
We continued our projects in the Buila-Vânturariţa National Park, offering the Oltenia area under the Mountain a new chance for healthy development, based on the conservation, promotion and the sustainable recovery of natural and cultural resources. Our plan is to transform the area into a guide for the development of communities around a protected natural area. In the meantime, I got involved alongside other members of our association in the Văcareşti Natural Park project, contributing to its establishment, administration and development. For its establishment, the Văcăreşti National Park Association received the CeRe Gala award in 2017. The two areas are linked because the plan is to make Văcărești the Embassy of protected natural areas in Romania, a national centre for the promotion of natural heritage and environmental education.’ Florin Stoican, President of the Kogayon Association
Prize winner of 2010: Tenants’ association from B23 bis block and The tenants from the blocks surrounding Emil Gârleanu Park
In 2010, a number of brave citizens took the stage of the Public Participation Awards Gala, rescuing 221 trees from deforestation. The award given at the Public Participation Awards Gala in 2010 to the Tenants’ association from B23 bis block and The tenants from the blocks surrounding Emil Gârleanu Park was entitled ‘To pass the concrete park’. Although the extension of concrete, to the detriment of green spaces is still a chronic issue for Bucharest, there are more and more citizens and groups who are civically active and hold the public administration accountable.
In 2009, the residents of a block of flats in the Titan district of Bucharest mobilized to counter the intention of the mayor’s office of sector 3 to cut 221 trees and then build a shopping complex and a parking lot. Furthermore, the citizen action group took action directly and in a protest the participants each tied themselves to a tree of those threatened with extinction and formed a human chain. ‘We will lie down in front of the bulldozers and tie ourselves to the trees we saw growing next to us, and our children must enjoy this green space because they also have the right to breathe fresh air, not the smell of asphalt and hot concrete’.
Prize winner of 2011: Working group of Civic Organizations - Decent housing for vulnerable Roma communities in Cluj
The Working Group of Civic Organizations took the stage of the 2011 edition – Decent housing for vulnerable Roma communities in Cluj.
The group received ‘The junkyard is not a home’ award.
In 2010, the Civic Organizations Working Group (COWG) campaigned for the decent treatment of the 56 families that Cluj City Hall moved from the city centre near the junkyard in Pata Rât. Most of the displaced were from the Roma communities, and the decision of the public administration pushed them even further to the edges of society and led to the depth of poverty.
COWG reacted immediately and launched an extensive advocacy campaign, with visibility in the national press, for making public institutions responsible for finding short-term and long-term solutions to solve the problem of segregation and the extreme difficulties faced by families moved to Pata Rât.
A few years later, in 2017, the Desire Foundation from Cluj (part of COWG) went on stage at the Gala where they received the ‘Justice makes a good home’ award, for the ‘Social Homes Now!’ campaign. Once again, the campaign brought to public attention the issue of social housing in Cluj-Napoca, a city in full economic development.
It has been 8 years since the evacuation from Coastei Street and the relocation of the families near Pata Rât. Evacuations without a decent alternative continue and the lack of social housing is acute.
However, the fight for housing justice continues, because the city of Cluj-Napoca belongs to everyone.
Prize winner of 2012: Ovidiu Mihuț
Ovidiu Mihuț, the civic fisherman who takes care of the mountain rivers, has taken the stage of the Public Participation Awards Gala twice. In 2012, for the “Legends of Făgăraş” award and in 2018 “Statul cu Musca 13 pe căciulă” award. Both awards speak of Ovidiu Mihuţ’s stubbornness, courage and perseverance to oppose the construction of micro hydropower plants in the Făgăraş Mountains and other mountain perimeters in protected areas (Nature 2000).
In 2011, Ovidiu mobilized a great deal of supporters for the mountain rivers cause, which are in danger of being dried up due to micro hydropower plants. He received the support of various environmental organizations, and the subject was widely covered in the press with a large audience. Violations of the law and permits were then documented, many hidden by the authorities. The European Commission has opened the infringement procedure, requesting clarifications from Romania on this subject. In 2018, Ovidiu Mihuţ was awarded at the Gala for the consistency with which he acted to protect mountain rivers, found under the same threat: micro-hydropower plants built on the Capra and Buda rivers in Făgăraş. Together with his fellow fishermen, he again notified the local, national and community institutions. Among the results of their efforts was the Government’s decision, in 2017, to improve the Water Law, in an attempt to bring more discipline and respect for the law and the environment when carrying out projects on the country’s river.
Prize winner of 2014: Organization for the promotion of alternative transport in Romania – OPTAR
The Organization for the promotion of alternative transport in Romania – OPTAR received in 2014 the “What Bucharest did not see” award at the Public Participation Awards Gala. OPTAR was established in 2011 and is still one of the most vocal organizations advocating for urban mobility. Bicycle lanes or quality public transport are two of the things they fight for consistently. Their advocacy actions are complex and involve holding the public administration accountable for a city that is more friendly to its pedestrians and cyclists. The award from the 2014 edition of the Gala was given to them for the public actions that led to the abolition of the illegal bike lanes arranged by the mayor’s office. With the involvement of many volunteers, they carried out a campaign to adopt bicycle lanes and, thus, documented through photographs over 100 km of tracks in Bucharest. As a result of the documentation process, they sent notifications to the institutions to request the abolition of the lanes that did not comply with the legal standards. Following these advocacy measures, the Local Police abolished the documented tracks within the 100 km radius.
On April 11, 2019, OPTAR celebrated 8 years of activity. 8 years in which the organization not only protested, but also offered appropriate solutions to the authorities.
‘’We were involved in the making of the chapter “bicycle infrastructure” from the Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan Bucharest – Ilfov, we have taken steps to improve the marking standard (by introducing new markings that will contribute to increasing safety on public roads), we have developed (in partnership with the Ministry of Development) the first Normative to regulate the way bicycle infrastructure is designed, built and maintained. We also had projects for pedestrians (with a focus on people with disabilities) and for public transport. We made the first edition of the Cyclist’s Guide (in partnership with the Bucharest Cyclists Community) and we offered solutions even for the realization of Green Roads in Bucharest.’’ (Excerpt from the organization’s FB page). Every year, OPTAR mobilized the community for cyclists’ marches.
If you want to see the OPTAR Report – 8 years of activity enter here
There is much to say about what OPTAR has done all these years, but we end with ‘The Right to Air’ campaign. It is the latest campaign in which they are involved, a broad initiative by which the people of Bucharest are called to demand their right to health, endangered by the alarming pollution quotas in the city.
Prize winner of 2015: ‘Give life’ Association
The ‘Give life’ Association received in 2015 the “Blood Budgeting” award for an extensive advocacy campaign through which it determined the Ministry of Health to ensure by law the settlement of the analyses necessary for the correct diagnosis of leukemia and lymphatic cancers. These analyses benefited in 2014 the over 50,000 patients already diagnosed with lymphatic cancer, as well as 800 new patients diagnosed with this disease each year.
In 2017, the ‘Give life’ Association returns to the stage of the Gala, for the “Budgetary Malpractice” award. The General City Hall wanted to quickly approve fast forward a budget of 30 million euros for the hospitals it has under its administration. Several general counsellors noted that the amounts required for the same medical equipment differed from hospital to hospital. The ‘Give life’ Association took over the subject, researched and discovered that some amounts from the budget were overestimated 100 times. The organization’s efforts eventually led the Capital City Hall to reassess the count. Thus, 5 million euros were saved from unjustified spending, an amount that the mayor’s office called a „material error”.
The ‘Give life’ Association is a famous name for many of us, for the unprecedented initiative in Romania: the construction of the first pediatric oncology hospital, exclusively from sponsorships and individual donations. The two awards at the Public Awards Gala were followed by other advocacy initiatives, with a positive impact for communities.
Prize winner of 2016: Green Agent Association
In 2010 ‘Green Agent Association receives the award ‘’You cannot pass!’’. Because the infrastructure mustn’t kill nature, the Association stopped the construction of DN 66, which would have concreted the last Intact Forest Landscape in Europe, located in the Retezat mountains. Agent Green demonstrates that the environmental impact study on which the road construction was based is „a scientific disaster.” They also targeted all public authorities and companies with responsibility for road construction and challenged all approvals, agreements and bills that facilitated the start of construction.
In 2016, the Agent Green Association received the “Never in the enchanted forest” award at the Public Participation Awards Gala. After collecting 21,000 signatures for the petition addressed to the Ministry of Environment, they managed to get the public authorities to protect the Coşava Mică Forest in the Semenic Mountains from illegal logging and to provide it with European Natura 2000 protection.
Currently, the Agent Green Association is still on the ramparts of the fight for environmental protection, pursuing its objectives to combat illegal logging, protecting national parks and saving the last virgin forests in Romania.
Prize winner of 2017: ‘’Partner for you’’ Association (APT)
In 2017, the Partner for You Association received the “With up-to-date analyses” award on the stage of the Public Participation Awards Gala. A summer before, a media scandal broke out after several children from Argeş County died due to infection with the E. coli bacteria. Sorina Bunescu from the Partner for You Association from Merişani village (Argeş county) tried to find out what the water situation was in her village.
After a request for information of public interest, Sorina and the community from Merişani found out that 8 water sources in the locality were contaminated and that the water was not recommended for animal consumption either.
Although they knew the situation, both the Public Health Directorate (DSP Argeş) and the Merișani City Hall were silent and did not inform the population about the potential danger to health. Only after sending records to DSP Argeş, to the Ministry of Health and to the Argeş Prefecture, the subject reached the press and the public institutions started to take measures. In the first phase, the administration checked and cleaned the water sources and then the schools in the village were equipped with water dispensers.
The Partner for You Association continued to be involved in solving the problems that Merişani and Malu Vânăt community is facing. Their priorities aim at solving the various problems faced by the vulnerable categories of the population from the village. Thus, APT conducts a campaign to hold public institutions accountable for the lack of access to public health services for people facing major financial and social difficulties. APT was involved in resolving the housing situation for several families from Malu Vânăt who were in danger of having their houses destroyed due to landslides caused by rains. Also thanks to APT, the Second Chance program now exists in Merișani, in which people who dropped out of school in the past are now recovering their years of formal education.
Prize winner of 2018: The Students Association from Călărași
The Students Association from Călăraşi took the “50% closer to education” award at the Public Participation Awards gala because they convinced the local elected officials to subsidize 50% of the local public transport for students. It was not easy for students, their campaign, before reaching the media and social networks, was ignored by local counsellors. Although the Education Law provides for the subsidization of costs for public transport, Călăraşi City Hall has not complied with this obligation for 7 years.
The civic students drafted a local council decision text themselves and presented it to the counsellors. It took 6 months and many efforts from the Association until the Călărași Local Council adopted the project to subsidize transportation costs.
I have known the students with civic determination since 2016 when I met them on the stage of the Gala, when the Students Association from Constanţa won two awards for advocacy campaigns aimed at respecting students’ rights. The “Students’ Brotherhood and Budgetary Injustice” Award was given to them for the consistency and courage to fight with the City Hall of Constanţa for subsidizing public transport for students. The subject for which they won the second prize, „The law is not negotiated on the stock exchange”, was also related to the refusal of Constanţa City Hall to comply with the law – non-allocation of funds for social and merit scholarships. The Students Association from Constanţa succeeded in this endeavour as well.
The student associations are more and more active today, and these days they are constituted in the Federation of Students from Romania.