a blog about Carpathian shepherds on the road, and other journeys


Saturday, 12 April 2014

Protest for a free world

Look for pastoral on google, and you'll find the pages are all about religion.  There is a link between that kind of pastoral care and looking after sheep: it's all over the Bible and figures in the Koran as well, but the way priests talk about tending their human flocks can sound too lofty by half.  Of course I had it in mind when I started this quest for transhumant sheep farmers - you know, simplicity, dedication and goodness.  But the more I think about it, what I was after was examples of decent humanism.  People who really want to look after our world.  Not The Good Shepherd in a frock.  Still I think it's a shame that farming is becoming ever more impersonal and profit-driven, and when you see real shepherds, like the ones in Romania leading their grists on transhumance, it's hard not to make connections with archaic leaders of souls, many of whose names have vanished, leaving us with a few well-known ones, such as Christ and Mohammed.  It's not just their long cloaks that do it, but the patience, dogged or otherwise, to stick with the caring role.

I'm holed up in soggy Pembrokeshire, unable to join my friends in the Carpathian Mountains for the moment, but have taken heart from Romanians like Matei Budes.  He may not keep sheep, but he and his colleague, Bogdan Palici, belong to a voluntary organisation called Vira which is leading a campaign that truly cares for the world.  Vira is based in Barlad, eastern Romania, near where Chevron wants to frack.  Since February 2012, Vira has been informing the public about the true implications of having shale gas exploration on their land.  They are clear about the consequences of using the cocktail of chemicals that are needed to extract the gas.  They know that there is a danger from irreversible water, air and soil pollution, especially in a region where many people live directly from the land.

Inspired by the hardy resistance of the Salvati Rosia Montana campaign, Budes and Palici have made a documentary film about the demonstrations against the gold pit that took place last September in Bucharest.  It was a sensational turnout: thousands took to the streets to conduct a peaceful protest, and hundreds linked hands to encircle Romania's parliament house - a photo in The Guardian newspaper (23rd September 2013) caught them in a joyous moment, as though they were dancing round a May pole (for an article about the protests in The Guardian, see this page).  Here's a link to a clip from the film, Toamna Romaneasca (Romanian Autumn):


And here's a link to a recent article about Vira:


It's a chain reaction.  Here's another link in that chain, this time to Terra Mileniul III, a Romanian NGO that since 2009 has brought more than 70 non-profit organisations together, all of them working for a more environmentally friendly, less greedy, future:


This is so encouraging.  Historically, Romanians have been criticised for bending their necks before the sword, for allowing Communism to corrupt their souls, for giving way in order to survive.  Of course, it wasn't as simple as that - and the flurry of new books describing Romanians' political resistance shows how wrong that judgement is - but since 1989, the young and determined who care about their country's future are not standing idly by.  It's ages since I heard a Romanian say, 'Ce sa facem?' ('There's nothing we can do about it'), when questioned about why they put up with bad government.  We could do with more of them here.

Quiet by comparison, Pembrokeshire is certainly not free of corruption, or anti-corruption protests.  It is also famous for its environmental campaigners, its green 'shepherds'.  Satish Kumar, the editor of Resurgence, used to live here.  John Seymour wrote some of his books about sustainable living at his house in the Gwaun Valley.  The self-build housing project, Lammas, which gives plots of land to people who want to make their own eco-houses, is based in Pembrokeshire.  So are Brithdir Mawr and Fachongle, communes that help people who want to escape the rat race.  In the pretty coastal town of Newport, there are the Eco Centre Wales, which is campaigning against fuel poverty, and the Real Seed Catalogue (sourcing and selling traditional but vanishing breeds of vegetables).  Not a bad place to be, even if it isn't Romania, and even if shepherds don't lead their sheep to pasture any more.

Later: Idly grazing in cyberspace, keen to return to the nub, I found this reason for being terribly excited about the modern uses of sheep: they can eat the grass under those monotonous rows of panels in solar farms.  The piece is from an on-line magazine called Grist, or a Beacon in the Smog, but was written for the New York Times in July 2014, and, hallelujah, it's funny too.    

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