June 13–15, 2023 marks 33 years since the so-called Mineriada. ‘Mineriada’ is a sarcastic term that combines the Romanian word ‘miner’ with the suffix ’-iada’ like in ‘olimpiada’ (Olympics), quasi, the Miner’s Olympics. As a teenager, I took part in the pro-European demonstrations and experienced some of the dramatic events myself. The book addresses the societal division that led Romania into a decade of isolation. The starting point are ten Polaroids taken by my father depicting the devastation in Bucharest of June 1990. In a retrospective from Strasbourg, via Bucharest to Petrosani, the work examines the sites of the events and the unspoken trauma of physical violence, when thousands of instigated regime-loyal miners from Transylvania were brought in to the capital to brutally bludgeon students and the pro-European opposition.
Despite a verdict by the European Court of Human Rights in 2014, the aggressions of those days remain unresolved and the dead not atoned for. Based on research into justice discourses, Mineriada addresses the latency of the suppressed past and raises awareness of recursive events, in a world that is again becoming increasingly polarized.
Anton Roland Laub
Excerpt from the essay: “Saturn devours its children“, by Lotte Laub, translated from the German by Nicholas Woods
After the First World War, Aloys Laub turned his back on the impoverished coal-mining region of Saarlouis, and settled in the thriving Bucharest of the 1920s. Seventy years later, his grandson Anton Roland Laub witnessed how miners, incited by the government, hunted down students and demonstrators in the streets of the Romanian capital, people who had hoped to live in a democracy and in freedom. The events entered Romania’s collective consciousness as the “Mineriada” and have still not been processed by the judiciary to this day.
Burnt out buses, flames in the background, plumes of smoke rising into the air, passers-by making their way through an area of devastation. These private Polaroid shots show University Square (Piața Universității) in Bucharest. They were taken by Frederic Laub, Anton Roland Laub’s father, on 13 June 1990, hours before assembled gangs of thuggish miners overran the streets, in the government’s words “to restore order”.
“Mineriada” is a sarcastic term combining the Romanian word “miner” (meaning the same as the English word “miner”) with the ending “-iada”, as in “olimpiada”. The third Mineriad took place in Bucharest from 13–15 June 1990, and was the bloodiest of six Mineriads. Some 10,000–12,000 miners were brought to Bucharest from the Jiu Valley in Transylvania. Days of violent clashes left more than 900 people injured and 67 dead – many more than the official death count of four that was published by the government after the events.
Intergenerational cannibalism, as handed down through the myth of Saturn, throws its shadow on the Mineriad, which brought hope for a democratic upheaval in Romania to an abrupt end. Under the guise of “original democracy”, the monster that destroys the hope for a new way of living turns out to be, under the spotlight of accusation, the old leadership obsessed by its efforts to maintain power. The “shocking experience” of the Mineriad would ensure the continued existence of the old power elite, namely Ceaueșescu’s post-Communist successors who were neither interested in shedding light on the course of events nor shy about using violence against critical voices. As a consequence of the Mineriad, Romania became internationally isolated and economic assistance was frozen. In 2014, the European Court of Human Rights condemned the Romanian state for the events of 13–15 June 1990 and obliged it to process them – an obligation that has yet to be met. As long as legal prosecution of the crimes continues to be postponed indefinitely, the trauma will be passed on to the next generations. The past is feeding on the present and future, obstructing a fair intergenerational balance.
The events in Romania are not an isolated phenomenon. In the Romanian press, the brutal attack on the US Capitol on 6 January 2021 was likened to the Mineriad. Trump incited the attackers as Iliescu did the miners. The action against pro-European demonstrations at Maidan in Kyiv in Ukraine (2013–14) is also reminiscent of the quashing of the mass protests at University Square in Bucharest. Moreover, Iliescu’s rhetoric is echoed in Putin’s rhetoric against “fascist forces” in the Ukraine.
Collective memory is linked to the locations where events took place. Anton Roland Laub shows the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and moves from here to University Square in Bucharest and the Hotel Intercontinental that, in Communist times, was seen as a location for journalists, diplomats and spies. Laub slips effectively into the role of contemporary witness, in doing so focusing more on moods than explanations. Wind blows through the net curtains, animating them. Static images become motion pictures that come alive. The settings are the IMGB; University Square and the School of Architecture; the Romexpo exhibition hall; the Bucharest North train station (Gara de Nord) and the Petroșani train station in Transylvania. The irony of the final photograph, which depicts the station building in Petroșani, with of all things a European flag hanging in the window, cannot be overlooked. It is here that the miners were brought together before being taken to Bucharest, to club down pro-European demonstrators. Romania has been a member of the EU since 2007. Europe has also reached this location; at the same time, the European flag is hanging in the window for an alien purpose: it acts as a screen against an unsightly construction site, banal, without reference. The exodus of young people who turned their backs on Bucharest in the years that followed the Mineriad shows how hope withdrew as a consequence of the events of June 1990. They left before Saturn had a chance to devour them.
Anton Roland Laub : Mineriada
Texts: Lotte Laub, Sonia Voss
Hardcover, 16,5 x 22,7 cm,160 pages, 10 color and 60 b/w illustrations, English, French, German