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Rosia Montana

Not so Golden and certainly not Green


By Alexandra Postelnicu, Romania

More than ten years have passed since the Roşia Montană mine development proposed by Roşia Montană Gold Corporation (RMGC) started worrying Romania’s civil society and the public opinion at large. The giant proposal has since its very inception raised a series of problems and risks regarding the environment, the cultural and built heritage, law enforcement and the rule of law, human rights, economics and ethics.

Due to heavy opposition by the majority of the Romanian Civil Society, the Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant Churches, the Romanian Academy of Sciences, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), more than 1000 scientists from all over the world, artists, tens of thousands of citizens, and also the Hungarian Republic, the project could not start as initially planned. However, the company pressed on, leading to a stalemate that has halted the development of Roşia Montană and it’s surroundings for the last ten years.  During this time the area suffered from lack of development, destruction of many historical buildings, emigration and bankruptcy of several otherwise flourishing local businesses. There has been a constant psychological warfare waged by the mining company on locals in order to make them sell their properties, splitting the community in two sides.

Although court cases were won by the local Alburnus Maior Association against RMGC, the mining company has always managed to obtain alternatives. A good example for the gravity of the situation is the case where the urbanism plans for Roşia Montană were ruled as illegal and thus annulled, but the local and regional authorities re-issued these documents as soon as they were canceled in court, with very little modifications whatsoever. This April, Alburnus Maior, the local opposition group, won again the annulment of the urbanism plans, but is expected that RMGC will get a new one, slightly different. In December 2008 Romania’s Supreme Court passed an unprecedented sentence annulling the archaeological discharge certificate no. 4/2004 issued by the Ministry of Culture and Cults for the Cârnic Massive in Roşia Montană (Cârnic Massive is a key site for the mining project, the whole mountain is going to be removed and exploited as an open pit if the gold mine is approved). As a consequence, the unique Roman and pre-Roman galleries from the Cârnic Massive, as well as the Massive, were kept protected. However, in July 2011 the Ministry of Culture issued a new discharge certificate!

The company has been carrying out a massive media campaign nationwide in the last five years, investing millions of dollars into advertisement in TV, radio, newspaper and digital media. The mining project is being presented as one with great benefits for the society, the local and national economy and with minimal environmental risks. The fake and manipulative nature of RMGC publicity was brought to the attention of The National Audiovisual Council of Romania in several cases, resulting in a few bans. However, their campaign continues, while we try to counter-fight with statements of various institutions and personalities, petitions (the current petition was signed by over 150 000 people), press releases, flash mobs, a yearly festival held in Roşia Montană and by constantly sharing the news with friends.

The company, backed by leading politicians now tries to change the mining law for their own benefit. Under the new provisions, private investors who obtain a license for exploitation would also gain the right to expropriate the concerned properties in the name of the Romanian state. According to the current Romanian legislation, the holder of a license does not have this right, only the Romanian state can expropriate property. The proposed provision would clear the way for abuse by private companies which happen to hold operating licenses in Romania. The proposal nr. PL-x. 549/2009 to modify law nr. 85/2003, initiated by Toni Greblă (PSD) și Ion Ruşeţ (PDL) senators, successfully passed the upper house of the Parliament, while the Camera Deputaţilor (the lower house) is expected to hold the final vote. For the time being any discussion about the new law was postponed, but it remains a constant threat for Rosia Montana and other mining projects in Romania, as it would enable an EU member country to undermine democracy for the sake of private interests. The amendment of Romania’s mining lawwould empower private companies to expropriate private landowners in the name of the Romanian state. We believe that if voted, the new law of mines would disregard the fundamental right to private property, guaranteed by the Romanian Constitution and the entire legal system in place, the European Convention on Human Rights and the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights.

This project would not only disregard the fundamental right to property, the European Convention on Human Rights and the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights, but also the Inherent Rights of Mother Earth. For example

(a)  the right to life and to exist, the right to be respected, the right to regenerate its bio-capacity and to continue its vital cycles and processes free from human disruptions   à The four mountains which to this day still embrace the village of Rosia Montana are scheduled to be blown up in the air for surface exploitation leaving behind gigantic craters on a surface area of 200 hectares.  All in the entire project footprint comprises 1258 hectares of which 235 hectares will require deforestation.

(b)   the right to be free from contamination, pollution and toxic or radioactive waste à During the 15 years of exploitation 215 million tons of rock will be exploited and processed with approximately 200.000 tons of cyanide(!). At this very moment 1.000 tons of sodium cyanide is used per year in the EU’s entire mining sector. At Rosia Montana RMGC proposes to use 13.000 tons of sodium cyanide per year! However, in May 2010 the European Parliament adopted by an overwhelming majority a resolution to ban the use of cyanide in mining.   In addition to cyanide the mining waste will also contain heavy metals and sulphur. During the operation roughly 200 million tons of such waste will be generated and dumped into a valley. This waste which looks like a lake or pond will cover a surface area of 360 hectares and will be held back by rock dam 180 meters high. The valley that will be transformed into a waste pond will be unlined meaning that the waste will be dumped straight onto the surface. Waste deposited in such a manner increase the risk of surface and ground water pollution and air pollution. The dam and the toxic waste will persist for centuries and in the event of a spill the pollution could be catastrophic. The valley where the waste pond is to be situated is called Corna Valley and consists of inhabited houses, several churches, cemeteries and is home to people who live and who look towards the future firmly rooted in this valley. These people would need to be expropriated to make way for the mine.

If Rosia Montana would have the right to full and prompt restoration the violation of the rights recognized in this Declaration caused by human activities, the project would not happen.  Each person has the right to a place and to play its role in Mother Earth for her harmonious functioning. It is up to the civil society to stand up, and put pressure against the gold mine.

We need to recognize that the capitalist current system and all forms of depredation, exploitation, abuse and contamination have caused great destruction, degradation and disruption at Rosia Montana, putting life as we know it today at risk. We need to create a model for  GREEN DEVELOPMENT which is much broader than the concept of a green economy. Green development incorporates economic aspects (green economy), social aspects and ecological/land use aspects in a fully synergistic manner respectful of the interplay between the different aspects.