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On January 28, a freezing day in Bucharest, hundreds of Romanian citizens protested against a government-approved gold mining project in Rosia Montana by a Canadian corporation, Gabriel Resources Ltd. It was not the first protest against the project: as I mentioned in a previous post, anti-governmental sentiment has swept the country since mid-January, and the row over Rosia Montana is a key issue. But despite the protesters’ warnings about the environmental, cultural and economic consequences of the project, Romanian authorities seem disinterested.

The project’s opponents criticise the use of cyanide (a common technique used to leach gold from extracted material) which would have a devastating and irreversible impact on the region’s biodiversity. Moreover, the mine would lead to the destruction of over 900 buildings and the relocation of over 2,000 people. Alas, the Romanian government supports the project, highlighting its economic value, and ironically, its ecologic and cultural benefits for the region.

A key justification put forth by advocates is that it represents the best chance for the region to escape poverty. They argue the project would create a total of 3,600 jobs, ensuring Rosia Montana’s sustainable economic development. However, CNS Cartel ALFA, a trade union group, puts the number at around 1,700 jobs, a significant difference, and predicted that after nine years employment would fall to just over 300. Hardly long term economic sustainability.

Furthermore, contrary to the Romanian government’s claim, the region is not mired in inescapable poverty, but rather systematically impoverished by government industrial policy, which declared the region a mono-industrial mining area. A state owned mine existed in the same location,  closing in 2006 ahead of Romania’s accession into the EU. This single-minded economic vision prevents alternative types of development. Instead of a mine, Rosia Montana could be an ideal location for eco-tourism, small businesses, agriculture and wood processing.

Re-opening the mine will do little for Romania’s long term economic development. As is the case with many foreign-owned resource extraction projects, Gabriel Resources owns  80 percent of the project, leaving the Romanian government with only 20 percent. After extracting 800-4,000 tonnes of gold, over 2,300 tonnes of silver, over 300 tonnes of uranium and numerous rare minerals, the Romanian state will obtain almost nothing – apart from lengthy cleanup.

And there will be a lot of it. The use of cyanide is highly controversial given the environmental effects. But many Romanian parliamentarians stress it is environmentally safe, and claim that cyanide uses will be lower than the European standard. More brazenly, the Romanian president has gone so far as to claim that the mining project will “ecologize” the region and that less cyanide will be used than that found in a cup of coffee (link in Romanian). Strange, most people do not drink coffee containing 40 tonnes of cyanide, the daily amount to be used at Rosia Montana.

Romania has already experienced the negative impacts of cyanide usage in 2000 during the Aurul S.A. Corporation’s Baia Mare  mining project. The company deposited over 100 tonnes of cyanide waste, breaking a dam in the process. This contaminated 100,000 square metres of fresh water, killing 1,240 tonnes of fish and causing enormous health problems for the locals.

The area’s culture heritage is also at risk. Mining, cyanide free, has occurred here since before Roman times. In the 18th and 19th centuries, several ceramic plaques containing Roman buy-sell agreements were discovered. Indeed, the mines themselves, many still preserved, are of historic value. To this effect, Gabriel Resources wants to preserve a historic centre in Rosia Montana, promising to renovate its buildings. But the company intents to start renovation after the cyanide extraction starts and given the buildings’ frailty, they are likely to collapse. More treasures are likely to lie buried in the mines and surrounding region. In response, project opponents are proposing to make Rosia Montana a UNESCO World Heritage site.

This is a good idea. I believe our international patrimony must be respected ahead of political and economic interests. Cyanide-based extraction methods should be banned at the international level. If citizens from across the globe lobbied their governments and the international community to stand against the Rosia Montana Project, not only would this important heritage site be preserved – but from these lessons learned, other locations can be protected from similar exploitation.

Raluca Besliu is a masters student in Refugees and Forced Migration Studies at Oxford.

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18 Comments

  1. Damian D.
    March 14, 2012 at 4:43 pm — Reply

    I believe you are overseeing some facts. For example, on the same day, there were about 3 times as many people marching in favor of the mining project, in Rosia Montana. Also, i couldn’t help but notice that you never once make reference to the villagers’ wishes. Is that because the vast majority of people living there want the mining project to start? Why can’t we just look objectively at this project? Why do you not make any mention to the cultural rehabilitation programs that the mining company has? Just recently I read some news that they opened for visiting some portions of the old Roman mines, which were actually dangerous to visit before the rehabilitation program.

    • March 14, 2012 at 7:24 pm — Reply

      Dear Damian,

      The entire purpose of my article is to be as objective as possible: that is precisely why I am putting forth the views of both the supporters and the opponents of the Rosia Montana project. I believe that one’s opinion can be easily and dangerously manipulated through misinformation, for instance by inflating employment promises and downplaying the serious ecological and patrimonial effects that the project may have, as emphasized in my article. In terms of the rehabilitation programs, which I do mention, the company has only promised to start renovating the Old Center after the project has began. If truly concerned about the region’s value, these rehabilitations should have commenced already. However, if the explosions at the mine were to start, most of these buildings would not stand a chance and simply collapse, thus freeing the company of any responsibility. What I am arguing in the paper is precisely that Rosia Montana, because of its ecological and patrimonial importance, is not important only to the locals, whose economic concerns I nevertheless acknowledge and strive to provide solutions for, but to the national and international spheres as well, who have just as much of a say about Rosia Montana’s future as the locals.

      • Damian D.
        March 15, 2012 at 8:11 am — Reply

        actually the company has already started to rehabilitate the Old Center, but they can’t work on all the buildings at once, that would be foolish to assume. Besides they need permits for that work too. And I don’t see how you tried to be “as objective as possible” seeing as you didn’t make any reference to what the people there want. I also believe that one’s opinion can be manipulated through misinformation, in this case through omission, but also by exaggerating ecological effects, given that this type of mining is used successfully in the EU, thanks to the strictest norms and standards in the world. But, an objective perspective would have seen that aspect also.

        • March 16, 2012 at 2:02 pm — Reply

          Let us not forget that the government and RMGC control most mass media sources, thus easily making their pro-project stance heard, while rendering it nearly impossible for those who oppose the project to have their voice heard. Overlooking the opinion of over 86,000 protesting Romanian citizens, which the government has been purposefully doing, would be, to me, a lack of objectivity. Therefore, allowing both sides’ arguments to be heard in a more balanced manner is as objective as possible.
          Given that I am currently unable to conduct field research in Rosia Montana, the only viable way of obtaining the local population’s reaction to the project, I cannot claim to know their opinion, so as to properly convey it, nor would I so easily and comfortably rely on the messages transmitted by the mass media and the RMGC commercials. More importantly, whatever the locals’ opinions might be, I do not believe it is for them to decide what happens with Rosia Montana. This is an internationally valuable site, and all Romanians as well as the international community must decide on its future.
          Moreover, there has been nothing exaggerated about the total amount of cyanide to be used daily in Rosia Montana or about the potential devastating effects that it may have on the region. I would suggest reading the impact of the Baia Mare cyanide tragedy, whose consequences are yet to be paid for by the responsible company, because the government has been unwilling/unable to solve a problem that it caused. The Baia Mare incident devastated that particular region. This example should not be taken lightly. Lessons must be drawn from it. As for the renovations, if one renovates three buildings, and promises to renovate the other over 100 buildings after the project starts, I would be slightly more skeptical about their “care” for the region’s patrimony.
          Finally, I would conclude by saying that the over 50 days of protests, in which over 86,000 Romanians have expressed their demands to cease the Rosia Montana mining project, as well as several individual protests specifically aimed at the project, some of which are going on as we speak, tell a compelling story about what most Romanians, or, at least, those brave enough to vocalize their opinions in public, believe about this project.

          • Damian D.
            March 19, 2012 at 8:44 am

            first of all, the protests weren’t about Rosia Montana, no matter how hard the Rosia Montana activists tried to make them about that subject. Anyone who has been at the protests or has followed the subject knows that, who are you trying to lie to? Secondly, you know that the people in Rosia Montana want the project to start, but you have not done any research so you do’t generalize. But you cand generalize the wishes of an entire country based on your wishful thinking about the protests? Where is the objectivity? I don’t understand how you can even pretend to be objective. About the use of cyanide, it is neutralized after use, so what is the problem? it is used in a closed circuit. so what is the problem? i know. the problem for you is that in a recent poll about 82% of Romanians (not all of them were asked, just statistics, so that there aren’t any confusions) were in favor of the mining project. But i know what you’re going to say. That they were bought, the media was bought, the people, everything!, because it is so easy for you to say that, no proof, no logic, no reason, nothing, it’s just a saying.

    • Rocky's Dad
      March 14, 2012 at 7:55 pm — Reply

      Is that because the vast majority of people living there want the mining project to start?

      What “vast majority of people”? We all know that the Rosia Montana locals who are opposing the destructions are the ones who have refused to sell their homes and properties for 30 silvers. All the others, the “vast majority… who want the mining project to start” are no longer living there. They have accepted the RMGC offer for relocation, have sold their homes and properties and have moved to the new Recea neighborhood in Alba Iulia.

      Therefore, the vast majority of people still living in Rosia Montana are opposing the mining project!

      • Damian D.
        March 15, 2012 at 8:13 am — Reply

        I’m sorry, you can go find out for yourself that 90% of people living there want the project to begin. And they are still living there. saying that people in the village don’t want the project to start is, simply put, a lie, and you know it.

        • LT
          June 15, 2012 at 10:16 pm — Reply

          What you seem to not be considering is the fact that the people living there do not think about ecological hazards, they think about themselves and their families. So the people still living there are waiting for a good offer from the company. Moreover, there are people building houses there, fake ones, just to obtain money from the company.

  2. Simona
    March 16, 2012 at 3:50 am — Reply

    The proposed mining project does not have the support of Romanians. As for the locals, it’s cheaper for the company to silently “persuade” them via necessity. Hand in hand with the government, RMGC (Gabriel Resources) declared Rosia Montana a mono-industrial area – therefore, there are NO other jobs available, other than the ones they might be offering.
    Here is a conversation between people from Rosia Montana, who oppose this project, and the Romanian President T.Basescu. It has English subtitles (press CC to activate them)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yfksnXIXyZo (part one, you’ll find part two and three on youtube)

    • Damian D.
      March 19, 2012 at 8:46 am — Reply

      actually it is a conversation between the president and the people from Rosia Montana who oppose the project. All 3 of them

  3. fillip
    March 18, 2012 at 12:43 pm — Reply

    great article – microcosmic issues like this say so much, thanks for drawing attention to it and thinking so carefully.

  4. Maria M.
    July 1, 2012 at 4:04 am — Reply

    Thank you for this wonderful article! This is the voice of millions of Romanians who are not being heard because of censorship, corruption and selfish interests. Romanians oppose this project and the ones who are in favour of the project are corrupted, are given money/material advantages or are incorrectly informed. They are being told just that the project will create jobs; many people do not even know that Rosia Montana Project sustains mining with cyanide. The people are thinking that those are the ‘good guys’ who want to save them. Goldcorp., the same corporation who is hiding behind different names and organizations in Romania, caused horrific scenarios in other countries and places, like Honduras, Guatemala etc. We want to fight against it and it is for noble reason.God help us!

  5. […] Romania’s Rosia Montana Mining Project: another example of the policy pitfalls of resource extract…, by Raluca Besliu […]

  6. […] would produce an irreversible environmental destruction in area. Exploiting the mine would mean destroying four forested mountains, contaminating multiple rivers, devastating several fragile ecosystems […]

  7. jim
    August 8, 2013 at 8:24 am — Reply

    Because everyone is invoking censorship and misinformation, maybe nobody should state their opinion unless they properly document it or at least has been at Rosia Montana and experienced the area first hand.
    I am not for neither against the project, I am just trying to get more info and knowledge about so I can chose a side.

    There are a couple of things that are intriguing:

    1. if the area is such an important heritage site, why it has been only realized now? I am wondering if RMGC would have not wanted to start the project, who would have paid even the slightest attention to this area.

    2. if the project is so great and the project so viable form ecological point of view, as the company and the gov are saying, why it hasn’t started and they don”t have all the permits?

    • Raluca Besliu
      September 2, 2013 at 2:25 pm — Reply

      Hi Jim,

      Thanks for your comment. I have been to Rosia Montana and the article has been more than carefully documented.

      1) The cultural and historic value of Rosia Montana has always been unquestionable. It is one of the few mines in Europe that has been used since the Roman times, with innumerable mining vestiges remaining from that time. While always there, Rosia’s cultural value began to have a large stake when the area became threatened by the mining project, as it became a key argument to recognizing the area as a UNESCO heritage site.

      2) The project is not viable from any point of view. It must be stopped, as I argue in one of my most recent pieces: http://politicsinspires.org/the-hypocrisy-of-the-romanian-government-why-the-rosia-montana-project-must-be-stopped/

  8. […] politicians also diplomatically omit, is that in 2002 the local County Council deemed Rosia Montana a “mono-industrial zone” – curiously stipulating no other commercial activity other than mining can operate in the […]

  9. […] politicians also diplomatically omit, is that in 2002 the local County Council deemed Rosia Montana a “mono-industrial zone” – curiously stipulating no other commercial activity other than mining can operate in the […]

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