Archive for iulie, 2011

Roşia Montană, a community at war with itself

marți, iulie 26th, 2011

Nu stiu cine este Joanne Atkins, daca este doar un pseudonim sau daca desemneaza un personaj real. Insa articolul este bun, cel putin ca (un alt) semnal de alarma.

Roşia Montană is a community at war with itself. Lakes, mountains and wonderful Transylvanian architecture make it an area of outstanding beauty nestling in the Apuseni mountains, but the air is poisonous.

The poison is not cyanide or toxic chemicals used in mining, but the hatred and tensions that have developed between people who support the mining project and those that oppose it. There is no middle ground. No alternative. You either support the mine or you don’t, and you hate those on the other side. Gold and the lust for gold have corroded the once close-knit community.

Just spend a day or two talking to folk in the luscious mountain town. People no longer greet each other on the street (an unthinkable thing in Transylvania) depending on what side of the dispute they are on. Fathers and sons no longer speak to each other and people regret how the community spirit has soured. The stress is evident in people’s lives. It’s in their ulcers, their heart problems and weight gain. Those that oppose the project say that the people who sold their homes and moved to a housing estate a few hours away regret leaving the community, wishing they had never been lured by offers of brand-new homes in a distant place. Others who have left Roşia Montană wonder where they will be buried if the town’s cemeteries are torn down in the process to make the mine. These people are „Moţi” and it is important to be buried at home when you die.

It is a mostly silent war. There are tourists in the area from Romania, Hungary and other countries, but most are afraid or too cautious to give their opinion on the mine, one way or another. They politely say what a beautiful place it is and they are happy to be there, leaving you to guess what they really think.

There are graffiti and banners on the road into the town which curse Soros and Greenpeace and a shiny poster saying how mining will bring prosperity and to the community. The poster, which is perfectly legal advertising, is something you would find in China or Communist-era Romania proclaiming the benefits of industry and mining.

Opponents of Roşia Montană Gold Corporation and the mayor say the town does not want to be recognized as a UNESCO site. Asked about alternative business, there appears to be little appetite for developing timber business, a dairy or a cheese business (we are in the mountains where there are cows, after all) and Gold. Corp supporters claim tourists are people who visit the town „for a few hours”. Strange that. I would think that in most countries of the world, most mayors and residents would want tourists, some kind of business that fits with the environment and area, and the prestige and investment that would come with being a UNESCO site. Ironically, the area attracts tourists, firstly because it is an area of outstanding beauty with 2,000 years of fascinating history and secondly because of the controversy which has made people curious. That’s free advertising and if we were in a normal society, locals would take advantage of that.

Let’s say that mining companies mine. That is what they exist for. They argue they bring development, jobs and business to deprived areas, such as Roşia Montană. But what about the people who are „selling” their story. Apart from Roşia Montană employees and their PR team whose job is to promote the project, the company appears to bought off most of Romanian media, some NGOs and also significant foreigners who live in Romania. NGOs, and people who ostensibly have no connection with Roşia Montană will suddenly start telling you what a good project it is for no reason at all. When you ask a reasonable question, the first line of defense is „if you don’t support the project, you want <>. You want people to sell mushrooms” Well, actually, no. There are plenty of businesses that could be developed in Roşia Montană. In Romania there is a saying that the mountains are always rich and the plains are poor. Not so in Roşia Montană it seems. Is the government interested in finding alternatives? Are local authorities interested? They have had 10 years and nobody came up with an alternative project for Roşia Montană. The next line of defense is „If Gold Corp. don’t do it, someone else will.” That may be true, but it’s also pretty lame.

Protests against the culture minister and against Gold Corp. are not reported in most of the Romanian media. Funny that. From the outside this suggest that the media and Gold Corp. are in cahoots. They are accomplices in covering up basic access to public information. Sadly, this suggests how weak Romania’s press and democracy is. Even if you are making a fistful of gold nuggets from the Gold Corporation adverts, you could report a protest. It’s the „abc” of journalism.

A year ago, the mining company invited „opinion leaders” on a trip to New Zealand. Romanian journalists and others who were prepared to accept a company invitation to the other side of the world, but did not make the 350 kilometer trip in their own country to see what it was about. This is what the mayor said anyway. Those that came back, were enthusiastic about the project. One even said that cyanide was so safe, you could drink it with your dinner. New Zealand, yes. Roşia Montană, no. Funny that.

In English, there is a saying. All that glitters is not gold. Seems to fit what is happening in Roşia Montană.