We were about leave the border crossing and drive into Romania, when the woman at the counter asked, “Are you here for the protest against shale gas?”
We were stunned. It was a little past midnight on May 1. The woman was about 45, seated before a bulky computer, wearing a navy-blue blazer and henna-reddish hair: the perfect bureaucrat. Yes, we admitted, we were on our way to see the protests.
My colleague Hans and I were travelling to an annual countercultural gathering at Vama Veche, on the Black Sea Coast. The giant beach bacchanalia at this tiny fishing village traces its roots to the communist period.
Intellectuals and hippies who needed a break from Ceausescu’s oppressive state would gather here and do what they usually did: talk about sex and have sex. If there was a Romanian Woodstock, it was Vama Veche.
This year, the gathering had an added sense of urgency. The American corporation Chevron was planning to exploit shale gas near Vama Veche, among other areas in Romania, through the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking.
Fearing pollution to the water supply, Romanian civil and environmental groups had launched a campaign to halt the company. In the preceding months, large demonstrations had been staged all over the country. Now it was Vama Veche’s turn.
Hearing our answer, the woman at the counter spoke with a wide smile: “I am one of the organizers of the movement against shale gas, you know.”
She held up a Romanian-tricolor ribbon and a campaign button that said “No to Shale Gas” in Bulgarian – advertising the campaign on the other side of the border.
“I’m going to wear those tomorrow,” she said. “And I’ll be collecting signatures at the large military tent on the beach. You can’t miss it.”
Vama Veche is about five kilometres from the border. We arrived at one am to find the best parking spots taken and the party in full swing. Along the road to the beach were rockers, punks, hippies, goths, bohemians: drinking, dancing, walking, standing, crawling. Bars blasted music. Empty bottles and trash littered the pavements.
Down on the beach, where the Black Sea lapped at the cold sand, bonfires were burning. People sat in sleeping bags, swigging beer and playing guitars. Several dudes, facing the sea, were urinating communally into the water. This was, indeed, Woodstock.
I was getting used to the pandemonium, when my ears caught a different sound: “Get the fuck out, Chevron! Get the fuck out, Chevron!”
A group of about 50 people, holding homemade banners and signs against shale gas exploration, was marching down the beach, led by a man with a megaphone.
I had imagined the rally would take place the next day in broad daylight – not in the middle of a party. I had not expected an environmental event in such an unhealthy environment.
Rockers and punks stood by, flabbergasted. Who the fuck was Chevron? Who were these bizarre people? Why can’t they have normal fun? A few onlookers, recognizing familiar expletives, drunkenly took up the chant: “Get the fuck out, Chevron!”
TV stations had been tipped off and their cameras, hungry for ratings, were already rolling. Fifty sober people in a sea of drunkenness. Could they win?
Somewhere several kilometres under Vama Veche, there was shale gas. Somewhere in offices on the other side of the world, Chevron managers were biding their time.
Dimiter Kenarov's journalism has been published by Esquire and The International Herald Tribune, among others.