Romanians are demonstrating to demand the dissolution of their government, which has been accused of corruption. Many also demonstrated in 2013 against the exploitation of the gold mine in the village of Rosia Montana.
At the end of a winding road through the mountains of Transylvania, lies the village of Rosia Montana. Snow covers its seven church towers, its four hills, its deserted narrow streets and its two thousand years of history. There is little sign of the 1,700 souls who live here.
But important news roused them last January. Rosia Montana was submitted by the former Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos as a candidate for being listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. While far from consensual, this decision is a victory for Romanian civil society over private financial interests that appeared to be more powerful.
This decision exemplifies the “man in the street” Romanian, which is rattling the powers that be. The history of Rosia Montana is inextricably tied to its history as a gold mine, first exploited in the Roman era in the 2nd Century. This exploitation continued up to 2006, before a handful of associations stated in 2009 that they wanted this site listed with UNESCO.
This wasn’t easy. The citizens who were concerned about their environment found themselves face to face with a Canadian company that wanted to revive the mining activities. Gold Corporation estimated that underneath Rosia Montana there are still 245 tons of gold and 900 tons of silver, with a value of 7.5 billion Euros.
In 2013, the Romanian government was close to implementing a special law, which would allow the company to expropriate the inhabitants of Rosia Montana Montana. Immediately, thousands of Romanians, not willing to be governed by private interests, began to take action. After five months of demonstrations, the government renounced the special law.
This victory, which saw its fruition in the inclusion of Rosia Montana in the list of proposed UNESCO Heritage Listed sites, was long in the making.
“Gold Corporation threatened to sue Romania for violation of investment treaties, and many predicted a defeat for the Romanian government after the proposal,” explains Tudor Bradatan. He is the co-founder of the “Save Rosia Montana” campaign, which has collected 10,000 signatures supporting the proposed listing with UNESCO.
Sorin Jurca lives in the most central house in the village, the first one that the Canadian company wanted to purchase. He is convinced that the UNESCO listing of Rosia Montana will be a springboard for the village.
“In the last ten years, we have seen the failure of mining exploitation. So let’s allow the village another ten years to be developed through environmental tourism,” says this unassuming man, who organizes guided visits to the village.
Still, some mindsets have to be changed. Like the mayor’s who, in favor of the mine, prohibited any further activity before being brought before the courts. And the mindset of some others. Among these, is one individual who has been able to give some commercial value to Rosia Montana.
At twenty-three years of age, and having arrived here in 2013, Tica Darie has since invested heavily in the village. He employs 40 women who knit woolen bonnets and scarves representing the village, which are sold all over the country.
“Here,” he explains, “people live on government welfare. They need a helping hand from private business or from the State”.
“The people in the village expect to be able to work for eight hours a day, in order to receive a salary,” says the proprietor of the main grocery store. “However, many locals produce liqueurs, jams … We could organize a market for visitors, or open a restaurant. Tourists complain about having nowhere to eat.”
In the meanwhile, supporters of the UNESCO listing are still concerned that the social-democrat government will make the wrong decision. Many in government supported the mine in the past.
“This is a sovereign state. It can withdraw its application at any time,” warns Stefan Balici, Director of the National Heritage Institute.
The proposal could further divide the population. UNESCO will make its decision in 2018.