Paris of the East

The so-called "Paris of the East" – Bucharest, was recently visited by the international battalions of Greenpeace, the mainstream ecological organization that drew volunteers from Belgium, Holland, the Slovak republic, Hungary and England for a concerted action. "Green peace" scaled the famous Triumphal Gate of the Romanian capital, under which the largest official celebrations (and a military march) were paraded a few days earlier dedicated to the 84th anniversary of the creation of greater Romania (on December 1st) .

The myriad wreaths laid there during the parade had not yet withered, while the foreign Greenpeacers (there still exists no Romanian chapter), like true alpinists, scaled the gigantic gate. Once there, they unfurled huge banners and posters. Of course, the Romanian police congregated in no time and disbanded the assembly of fighters for ecological rights. Some scuffling broke out. Posters and balloons shaped like "all-seeing-eyes" were torn down. The Greenpeacers left shouting "We’ll be back", and "Rosia Montana carries death".


In the past two years, the name ‘Rosia Montana’ is being mentioned more and more often in the news reports of western newspaper agencies. The name refers to a zone in the Romanian province of Transylvania, specifically, in the Western Mountains of the region, which has long been known to hide enormous quantities of gold. Even the ancient Romans, having conquered Dakia, settled many miners’ communities from Dalmatia in the region to dig for gold. There remain numerous and very valuable archaeological monuments from that period which further augment the value of Rosia Montana today.

Of course, gold has always attracted its seekers. The successors of Pizarro, the infamous Spanish conquistador who colonized the Incan lands of Peru, today work in multinational corporations. Yet this shift in historical context has not altered the legacy of Pizarrian ruthlessness. Such is the case with this contemporary Romanian El Dorado, now so closely observed by so many.

As it now stands, a Canadian company called the "Rosia Montana Gold Corporation" (majority owned by the Canadian mining exploration and development company Gabriel Resources) has prevailed over others. They have paid a steep fee for the license to exploit the gold deposits in the Western Romanian Mountains.

The company’s global competitors have not looked too kindly on this. Currently, there is a serious psychological and media war going on, behind the scenes of which one can discern the intertwining and conflicting interests amongst a range of companies, banks, businessmen and politicians.

The Romanian Minister of Industry and Resources Dan Ioan Popescu, under whose portfolio this robbery is taking place, has proclaimed this project to be "the greatest technical investment in the exploitation of gold in Europe".

The initial start-up investment is expected to exceed $250 000 000. Of this sum, 60% will be spent on the resettlement of some 900 homes and on the purchase of their properties. Graveyards and churches will also be relocated. New buildings and settlements will be erected on the cleared terrain. This is what the agents of multinational corporations call, with nice touch of empathy, the most painful social side of the project. However, this will not deter them from their noble endeavor to aid the stumbling Romanian economy.

The Greenpeace activists have taken a keen interest in the ecological impacts of this open pit mining operation. All five mountains will simply be wiped out, to be replaced by gigantic craters, almost 350m deep. Valleys will also disappear, to be partitioned and converted into gargantuan reservoirs full of poison. As things currently stand, there exists no other method for the separation of gold from ore than this one based on cyanide. It has been acknowledged that up to 5 000 tons of pure cyanide will be required annually for the project.

According to published data, 420 million tons of ore is expected to be processed here annually, from which the Canadian company expects to extract 1.7 tons of gold. The Romanian Environment Minister, Petre Lificiu, seems well aware of what lies in store for his people in this part of the country. "Everything will quake and quiver. Each hour, 70 dump trucks with a 100 ton carrying capacity will be fully loaded. It will be a true hell", he has acknowledged, though this has still not lead him to speak out against the "Rosio Montana" project.

He has attempted to legitimate this ambivalent stance with an interesting pronouncement: "This investment is a big opportunity for both the poor communities in the Western Mountains, as it will create 2 000 new jobs, and for the reconstruction of the Romanian mining industry in conditions where the state budget can no longer bear the burden of expensive subsidies". According to the MiningWatch Canada (http://www.miningwatch.ca) : "the government of Romania holds a 20% interest in the project through the state mining company Minvest, and will receive a 2% gross production royalty".

Adding to this picture of hell, as described by the Romanian Minister, 150 tons of dynamite will be detonated daily at "Rosio Montana." A local newspaper rightfully writes that "future Romanian generations will inherit a landscape quite similar to that of the Moon. All that will remain is a wasteland."

Nonetheless, all is not yet resolved. Although the Canadian company has begun the resettlement of the Moce, as the inhabitants of the Western mountains are traditionally called, the Romanian Parliament has been forcefully called upon to make a statement and take a clear position on the project. Prime Minister Adrian Nastase has stated that "the project of mining exploitation of ‘Rosia Montana’ will not be given a permit to proceed until clear guarantees are given that respect European ecological standards."

It is highly unlikely that the corrupt Romanian political elite will stop this brutal colonization by multinational corporations out of concern for its social and ecological impacts. This remains an urgent task that east-european activists should take on as soon as possible.

Andrej Grubacic, historian and political activist from Yugoslavia, can be reached at [email protected]



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