“What is a city, but the people? True, The people are the city.” William Shakespeare
From an administrative point of view, Roşia Montană is a township comprising 16 villages. It is under the protection of the national legal system and was declared as the rural area with the richest heritage in Romania.
The community of Roşia Montană is connected to a scenic landscape specific to the Apuseni Mountains and to a mining history of nearly 2,000 years that left behind valuable architectural monuments, a rich spiritual heritage and archaeological vestiges unique in the world. Thus, the existence of this community over the centuries created a unique identity expressed today by a natural and cultural heritage of inestimable value and of a national and universal significance.
Because of this, “Roşia Montană is an area where the spirit of the place is more visible, more present than in other areas, and at the same time an area where just/precisely/exactly the disregard of the spirit of the place has generated a social drama with yet unpredictable consequences.” Dr. Horia Ciugudean, one of Romania’s foremost archaeological experts
Open Pit Mining: Rosia Montana’s Greatest Threat
The social drama of Roşia Montană’s community began in 1997 and is the result of the intention of Roşia Montana Gold Corporation, a Canadian gold mining company, to create Europe’s largest open pit gold mine.
The threatened local community of Roşia Montană refers to the four villages targeted by the Canadian gold mining project (Roşia Montană, Corna, Ţarina and Bunta), of which the most affected are Roşia Montană and Corna.
The mining project proposes the displacement of the entire community from the two villages, the relocation of cemeteries, the demolition of approximately 75% of the houses, dynamiting the four mountains that surround the villages and building a reservoir of cyanide waste behind a 185m dam in Corna Valley, submerging the village of Corna. These plans put the communities of Roşia Montană and Corna under an intense process of depopulation that had dramatic consequences at the demographic, social, economic and cultural level.
The changes under which the community was subjected without taking into consideration the spirit of the place changed the local identity and compromised the existence of the community.
The development plans of the company represent a serious threat towards the community that has already been strongly affected during the past 16 years and places the community under the risk of reaching an irretrievable stage of disintegration that would lead to the disappearance of the identity and the loss of the community’s value as a place of universal importance.
The presence of the company in Roşia Montană has brought dramatic changes to the local community and to the framework within which it exists.
This mining project guarantees the economic development of the area without taking into consideration the integrity of the framework where this development would occur. Therefore, the existence of the community, the preservation of the local identity and of the cultural and natural heritage is jeopardized. This brings into question the company’s assertion that the mining project supports sustainable development principles.
“Since the area of industrial development is reserved to the gold mine project, since 2002, no permits have been granted for construction of hostels, hotels, farms, etc. So if a local attempts to open a business, he does not receive the approvals even if on his own property.
Basically, people were bound hand and foot with RMGC making sure that the area won’t be able to develop so that later they can blackmail the locals to sell their properties and to serve us this day, together with the related portion of cyanide, the idea that the only solution to create jobs is the mining project.” Dr. Raul C. Muresan, ” The human drama in Roşia Montană “- debate ziare.com
What we can conclude from the words of Dr. Mureşan is that the community of Roşia Montană was put under a planned dissolution process.
This process of decay took place at the demographic, social, psychological, emotional, economical and cultural levels.
1. DEPOPULATION through displacement
In order to start the mining project, RMGC must acquire all of the properties in the impact area, demolishing approximately 75% of the buildings of Roşia Montană and all the constructions from Corna village displacing aproximately 2,300 people, two churches and six cemeteries.
So far, the community of Roşia Montană has been reduced by 80% with 1,700 people being displaced. 800 homes have been purchased of which about 160 have been demolished. In Corna Village, only 40 families out of 240 remain.
These actions were possible even without the certainty that the mining project will happen. As of March 2013, environmental permits and the construction authorization have not been obtained.
2. POLARIZATION of the community
With the arrival of the company, the locals of Roşia Montană were divided into two groups, pro and against the mining project. Each of the two groups support contradictory interests, even though they both claim that through their actions they want to save the community. This conflict led to division in the community and its polarization.
3. DAMAGING the two key – elements that define the comunity
A community is defined by two key elements in regards to the local population: its placement in the same geographical space and the common concerns of the population.
The common concerns
In the case of Rosia Montana, the internal conflict has seriously affected the integrity and the unity of the community through the dissolution of one of the two key elements that defines it: the common concerns. Members of the Roşia Montană community do not believe in the same values affecting the community’s “common concerns.” The pro camp believes that the mining project is “the only chance to save the community” while those against believe in the obligation of saving the area and its heritage and are ready to drop the mining activity and seek a more sustainable alternative.
The placement in the same geographical space
The second key element that defines the local community, geographical location, has also been seriously compromised. The old community is no longer located in the same geographic area because of the company’s planned displacement process which relocated many residents to a company neighborhood of 160 houses on the outskirts of Alba Iulia (Recea neighborhood) approximately 80 km from Rosia Montana.
4. The community and families DIVISION
The sale of properties and land (the displacement process) generated many conflicts and increased instability and disunity among family members who were divided in regards to the project and the sale of properties.
5. The DEGRADATION of human relations
- the loss of community cohesion through the manifestation of contradictory interests;
- the breakdown of familial relationships (relatives who do not speak for years because of the conflicts related to the sale of the properties, children who have sold the homes of the parents or grandparents, homeless elderly.
6. The DECREASE of the quality of education
The relocation brought serious consequences on the process of education. For example, as of 2013, only 9 students remained in grades 1 – 4 who study all together with only one teacher, reducing the quality of education and decreasing student performance.
7. VIOLATION of the right to health
In 2002, the general practitioner (GP) of the community received an offer from the company to stop practicing medicine in Roşia Montană.
“The mining company S.C. R.M. Gold Corporation” offered to the general practitioner, Florin Georgescu, the amount of 840.000.000 lei, just to leave Roşia Montană. For one year, the parish had no medical assistance.” Torţionarii de la Roşia Montană, Formula As
This strategy discouraged and intimidated the remaining locals, which were already without neighbors, relatives, a pharmacy, a bakery and food stores.
After eight months without medical assistance, the locals presented this situation to the Alba County Health Department. In the meantime, three doctors from Italy volunteered to work in Roşia Montană, asking only for a work space. The Health Department did not accept the demarch of the Italian doctors, telling them that a new doctor was going to be named as soon as possible.
Currently, the new general practitioner of the community provides medical services only two-three days per week.
8. LACK OF SERVICES
Roşia Montană village is the administrative center of the 16 villages that comprise the parish. Among the changes within the community is the minimizing of services, an effect that reflects not only on the community of Roşia Montană village, but on all the other villages, as well.
Roşia Montană no longer has a pharmacy or bakery. The mining company bought and shut down nearly all of the business owners in the village.
1. The obligation to make compromises for the families who do not want to fall apart: brothers who accept the sale of a part of the inherited properties by the other brothers; parents or grandparents who accept the displacement decided by their children or grandchildren.
2. Feelings of abandonment and isolation: only one family remaining after all the relatives have gone; families that have lost life-long neighbors; neighboring properties bought by the company but left to degrade (deserted unkempt courtyards, broken windows, waste).
3. Resentments and hatred between those for the project and those against.
Some locals have said that they didn’t know what hate meant until the company arrived. They insist this is what caused the degradation of the relations between people.
4. Inability to adapt to the new location.
Many of those who accepted the displacement had adaptation problems. There are cases where some families returned and relocated to Roşia Montană after they sold their houses, or cases of elders who were persuaded to sell their homes and to move to the city with their children or grandchildren. But because they could not adapt they returned and attempted to live in their already sold homes.
5. Confusion and hopelessness about the future of the community, not only from project opponents but also from those who support the project but have no certainty that it will begin and they will be offered the promised jobs.
6. Loss of confidence in state authorities which has tolerated this situation for 16 years, demonstrating the incapacity to take a final decision about the fate of this community.
7. Lack of trust in local authorities who became the main supporters of the mining company, no longer representing or supporting the interests of the locals who oppose the project.
The Town Hall does not support the events organized by the opposition: approvals and authorizations are NOT given for peaceful protests and only some cultural events are allowed on the public space or in the Cultural Center building.
Local authorities have no other solutions for the economical development besides the mining project proposed by the company. Therefore, in 2002, the Local Council declared the area covered by the mining project as a mono-industrial area, i.e., an area exclusively reserved for the open pit mining project where there cannot be performed any other activities besides those related to the mining.
8. Loss of confidence in the church
Despite the fact that the Orthodox Church officially opposed the mining project and that the churches in the village conveyed that they will not vacate any properties until the last parishioner leaves, subsequent representatives of the churches acted totally contradictory. The Romano-Catholic Church sold and rented church-owned properties.
In addition, three priests from the community became supporters of the mining project, exchanging services with the company and promoting the project inside the churches. (The company newspaper has been seen being distributed in one of the orthodox churches).
9. A state of tension between remaining locals – sixteen years of waiting, discouragement, witnesses to community disintegration.
10. Distrust from the large number of documentaries, studies, surveys, interviews, reports that were made here during the sixteen years.
11. Psychological pressure, threats and false promises from the company
In order to convince the locals to sell their properties, various strategies were used by the company to weaken their resolve:
- constant pressure – in some cases, although the locals did not want to sell, the company representatives came back constantly, sometimes daily.
- the company as savior – of the idea that the only chance for the community to survive is directly connected to the start of the mining project (the influence of the local newspapers and of the national mass-media, the influence of the church representatives, the decisions of the local authority, the position and the statements of the president, etc.).
- verbal threats – locals said they had been verbally threatened by company employees. Some have been told that if they don’t sell their properties, they will be expropriated by force and obligated to leave their properties with no money.
- false promises – for 10 years, the mining company has promised to build a relocation site close to Roşia Montană, named Piatra Albă (The White Stone). So far, the ultra-modern settlement promised to keep the people together has not materialized. Currently, only a quarter of the initial population of Roşia Montană shares the same geographical space (Recea neighborhood, in the city of Alba Iulia).
THE DRAMA OF CORNA VILLAGE
Corna is one of four villages affected by the mining project of RMGC.
Unlike Roşia Montană, for which the company guarantees development and wealth at the end of the 17 year mining project, the company plans to submerge the village of Corna under a reservoir of cyanide held back by the tallest dam in Europe.
The company has been trying to start this project for 16 years and although they have never obtained the necessary approvals, the community from Corna was prepared to disappear, becoming an almost forgotten settlement:
– only 40 from 240 families left, the other 200 being displaced by the mining company
– the school, kindergarten, Cultural Center and shops in the village were closed;
– City Hall terminated all investment. The road linking the village Abrud to Corna has not been maintained for over 10 years;
– the priest prohibited any burials in the cemetery of the village. The remaining families must transport and bury their dead in another place.
“Roşia Montană was kept underdeveloped deliberately because the exploitation company together with the local authorities leaded a systematic campaign of impoverishment of the local population, deploying a real social genocide.” Dr. Raul C. Mureşan, “Drama umană de la Roşia Montană” – dezbatere ziare.com
1. Declaring the area as mono-industrial made it impossible to make new investments and contributed to the decade-long stagnation of economical development.
In 2002, the Local Council approved two urban zoning plans, proposed, prepared and financed by RMGC. Through these, 1600 hectares of land – from the four villages included in the mining project were declared as being a mono-industrial area, an area exclusively reserved for the open pit mining project and where there cannot be performed any other activities besides those related to mining. Sorana Olaru, Alburnus Maior – „O Evaluare a Studiului de Impact asupra Mediului pentru Proiectul Roşia Montană cu accent pe aspectele socio-economice şi care privesc comunitatea”
If a citizen who lives in the industrial area wants to build on his property a simple hostel, a shop or to make any other kind of investment, he is not given the necessary approvals. The explanation is: “on your property, according to the General Urban Zoning Plan, there are prohibited the housing and socio-cultural functions.” Roşia Montană Hall 7862/5.12.2003 RMP
Declaring such a large area as mono-industrial affects 47% of the population in Roşia Montană and 838 households. Sorana Olaru, Alburnus Maior- „O Evaluare a Studiului de Impact asupra Mediului pentru Proiectul Roşia Montană cu accent pe aspectele socio-economice şi care privesc comunitatea”
“This… is particularly important in analyzing the situation of the development in Roşia Montană.” Sorana Olaru, Alburnus Maior – „O Evaluare a Studiului de Impact asupra Mediului pentru Proiectul Roşia Montană cu accent pe aspectele socio-economice şi care privesc comunitatea”
The company has, therefore, guaranteed that this community does not develop, does not attract investments and has no economical activity, but it is this company that restrained and keeps restraining the development of the community for which the only solution would remain, of course, the gold mining project. An Assessment to the Environmental Impact Study RMP focusing on socio-economic and community concern, Sorana Olaru, Alburnus Major Impact Assessment. Alburnus Maior
2. Lack of investment
“As a mono-industrial area, any new investments have been blocked. In this way, it was creating a hopeless situation that has been lasting for over a decade. Lack of investment led to a stagnation in agriculture and especially in tourism, which could become the main source of income for the community. Roşia Montană and Corna have a rich cultural and natural heritage: buildings of historical and architectural value, eight churches of different denominations, archaeological vestiges (6 archaeological sites of national and universal importance, the Roman galleries unique in the world), a landscape specific to the Apuseni mountains and a scenic location.” Dr. Raul C. Mureşan, “Drama umană de la Roşia Montană” – dezbatere ziare.com
3. Closing the state mine
“In the media campaigns RMGC always tries to convince that the project will boost the mining activity in the area, providing jobs and prosperity. However, what very few people know is that mining activity in Roşia Montană continued until 2006. The pretended/alleged savior of the area today, RMGC, was even the one who asked the National Agency for Mineral Resources to stop mining exploitation. “ Dr. Raul C. Muresan,” Human Drama in Roşia Montană “- debate ziare.com
The closure of the state mine, declaring the area as mono-industrial, the depopulation, reducing services and preventing local investment, all of this led to economic hardship allowing the company to promote their open pit mine as the only solution.
“The ones from RMGC are directly responsible for the exacerbation of the unemployment rate in the area, and today they try to convince us that their project is the only solution for creating jobs in Roşia Montană.” Dr. Raul C. Mureşan, „The human drama in Roşia Montană – dezbatere ziare.com
The spirit of a place is the ensemble of the material (sites, landscapes, buildings, roads, objects) and immaterial/spiritual elements (memory, values, beliefs, customs, traditions, celebrations, festivals, crafts, etc.), which give the place meaning, value, emotion and mystery.
The gold project and the spirit of place
In the process of applying the development plans of mining company:
1. The local community and the environment where this exists were not treated as a whole;
2. Totally ignored was the importance and the role of immaterial values in the preservation of the local identity.
Ignoring all these aspects, the mining company can neither assure nor maintain the vitality of the community. Disregarding the importance of these elements which formed the environment where the community exists seriously affected its integrity and threatens its existence.
Negative effects on the material elements
1. The rural landscape was negatively affected as a result of the population displacement and demolition of the houses. In this way, some of the areas of the settlement became desolated places, uninhabited, with deserted houses in an advanced stage of degradation.
The degradation and loss of the cultural patrimony represented by the degradation and loss of buildings of historical and architectural value occurred due to company policy or neglect. Approximately 160 buildings from the 800 that were bought by the company were demolished. From the 39 historical monument houses, 28 were bought by the company. Most of them reached a serious degradation condition (e.g., house no. 393 was left to crumble).
Negative effects on intangible
1. Loss of values and beliefs
The process of change that the community was forced to undergo in the last two decades brought dramatic changes in terms of values and beliefs. The dissolution of the community in Roşia Montană brought about the breakdown of the family unit and in the relationships between community members, a constant state of conflict and tension, resentment and hatred. All of these created an environment unfavorable for the preservation and passing of the values and beliefs.
2. Loss of customs, traditions, celebrations
The depopulation and the degradation of human relationships led to the lack of enthusiasm in maintaining the local spirit. Gone was the inspiration to organize markets and festivals specific to the place and important events to support the rhythm of community life: the weekly markets and the fairs like the Roşia Montană Fair, marking the beginning of the Spring, the autumn market, marking the end of autumn, and The Fair of the Labor Day.
3. The violation of the religious life and relation with the church
The Roşia Montană community holds an important cultural-religious heritage, through the historic and architectural value of the churches and through the variety of their religious denominations: Orthodox, Romano Catholic, Greek Catholic, Reformed and Unitarian.
The conflict generated by the mining project touched the integrity of the local churches, too. The fact that the position of the representatives of these churches were against the official one, declared by the Orthodox Church, generated serious unbalances within the local community concerning the affiliation to a certain religion, at the level of human relations and at a spiritual level.
Some of the Orthodox locals refused to go to the Orthodox Church because of the priests support of the open pit mining project; now, they go to the Unitarian Church, there the priest supports his parishioners. Some other locals chose not to go to church at all, claiming that the priest doesn’t represent them anymore.
In Corna village, 40 families remain who do not want to sell their properties. Despite the fact that these families live there and that the village still exists, the priest, supporter of the mining project, prohibited the locals from burying their dead in the village and they are now forced to find another location for the burial.
With the consent of the church committees, the priests rent to the company both buildings and lands belonging to the churches. One priest also promotes the mining project by distributing the company newspaper inside the church. In exchange, the employees of the company provide various services for the benefit of the church.
The pro project position of most of the priests in the community, their visible collaboration with the company, the promotion of the mining project in the churches they tend, all these things seriously harm the people’s confidence in the impartiality of the church representatives; because they stopped doing their duty as promoters of justice and truth and because they no longer represent a moral and spiritual support for the residents that do not want to leave their homes and village.
The attitude of the priests generates negative consequences in the community: disintegration of the church-parishioner unit, the decrease of respect towards the church representatives, towards the integrity of the church and the loss of confidence in the values promoted.
The relocation of the cemeteries
The exhumation and relocation of graves is an extremely controversial subject in the community. According to Orthodox religion, the exhumations and relocation of graves are strictly forbidden between April to October. In the cemeteries from Roşia Montană exhumation were done even during the summer; locals complained of unbearable odors that persisted during high temperatures.
This action generated serious conflicts between some family members who do not share the same beliefs about the project. There were some situations where a family member accepted the relocation of the parents’ or grandparents’ grave without the approval of the other family members or even secretly, while the other members were not in the village.
“I consider the destiny of Roşia Montană as inevitably bound to the destiny of our generation. I would like to know, with all my heart, that we can finally wake up from the manipulation and that Romanian society matured enough to be able to make rational and knowledgeable decisions, that we will lay a better future to our children. Roşia Montană gives us the rich opportunity to prove that we deserve that!”” Dr. Radu Muresan
1. The Roşia Montană Gold Corporation mining company represents the main threat upon the community of Roşia Montană and Corna village. The open pit mining project proposed by this company contributes significantly to the dissolution of the community and of its identity, the mutilation of the place and the loss of the cultural and natural heritage.
2. Lack of integrity of the local and national authorities and of the mass-media
Changing the Mining Law would lead to the forced expropriation of locals who do not want to sell their properties to the company. In this way, one of the most important conditions to start to mining project – the acquisition of all the properties on the area covered by the mining project – would be fulfilled.
Endorsement of the project by the president and by other influential people The president, Traian Băsescu, supports the project of the Canadian company without presenting the population the risks involved in a project of such scale. The superficial attitude of the president on this subject of national interest and the misinformation given to the population is a threat on the degree of awareness of the population about the risks of such a mining project. The blind, pro-mining position of the president and of other politicians question their ability to objectively analyze the available research regarding open pit mining at Roşia Montană.
The misinformation and the lack of impartial information through national and international mass-media
Roşia Montană Gold Corporation spends millions of euros to run extensive campaigns to promote the mining project, both at home and abroad. Open pit mining in Rosia Montana is presented favorably and as the only economic solution.
3. The division of the local community
The conflict generated by the mining project led to the division of the community into two groups of locals with opposing interests: for and against mining. The process of displacement, together with the selling of homes and the relocation of graves emphasized the tension and state of conflict in the community and within families. This degradation of community cohesion represents a threat for the future of the settlement and its people.
1. DISAPPEARANCE of the COMMUNITY
The local communities are defined by two key elements: the geographical location and the common concerns. In this case, the internal conflict severely affected the integrity and the unity of the community by damaging these two elements.
2. DISAPPEARANCE of the local identity
The dissolution of the community and the loss of intangible values show the lack of interest of the company in ensuring the preservation of the local identity. The term sustainable development is thus used improperly; sustainable development requires a holistic approach that takes into account: social development, economic development, environmental protection and cultural diversity.
The fragmentary preservation of the settlement with the disappearance of the community and the mutilation of the place leads to the disappearance of the local identity.
3. MUTILATION of the place
Besides the degradation of the immaterial values that have already occurred, the open pit mining project also threatens the place where the community exists and all that it holds: archaeological vestiges, architectural monuments, biodiversity, natural landscape.
Under the company plan, Rosia Montana would be a completely changed, with no value once the original community and its identity, created and shaped along over 2000 years, was lost.