It’s six in the morning and I’m on the road to Alba Iulia with my colleagues Stefania and Floca. We’re heading to the courtroom to hear the final verdict of an important lawsuit submitted eighteen months ago by Alburnus Maior, the NGO I work for voluntarily in their ‘Save Rosia Montana’ campaign. Alburnus Maior comprises property owners from Rosia Montana who for the past five years have mobilised heaven and earth to save their homes, their past and future from being bulldozed to make way for Europe’s largest open cast gold mine - or Europe’s greediest and craziest venture, depending on your perspective. All is quiet in Rosia’s old piata as we drive through; all except at the local food store where the baker is delivering his daily bread. The sky above is already clear and I say to myself that it will be another hot day.
A few minutes on, we head towards Abrud and here all is covered in morning ceata (eng: mist). I open the window and a warm breeze infused with scents of hay and smells of wetness enters. In front of me I see the day unfolding, and it’s magic. A thousand shades of green appear as the light rises and turns, while a flock sparrows dive up and down the mist: flapping their wings as they reach the crest just above the mist, holding out for a moment as if to welcome the sun and the day before swooping in again. Here lies a thousand possibilities and stories of life without end. It is a humbling experience each and every time; it is beyond us all.
So here we are on the very
familiar road towards Alba Iulia and as we move on past Abrud, Bucium Cerbu,
the windy road of Dealul Mare and Valea Ampoitza, I can imagine what lies
ahead. Awe-inspiring landscapes destined to become mine projects promoted
under the banner of development and progress. Those who had their hands in
creating this aberration are known to each and every one of us: Calin Popescu
Tariceanu, Radu Berceanu and Mihail Ianas, to name but a few. Frankly I don’t
care about them; time will take care of them. Instead I think of what lies
ahead, I think of Rosia Montana and about the future.
And I think about the mining proposal’s true colours and cost. What is proposed here is neither progress nor development; it’s colonialism. All of us who live in Rosia Montana know this; including the miners. No one here believes in Rosia Montana Gold Corporation’s (RMGC) gold venture; no one, least of all their experts and consultants. It’s just a question of whom you sell your soul to, and at what price.
The good news is that there are locals – Rosieni – whose soul and soil are not for sale at any price. My mind takes me to Eugen David, the president of Alburnus Maior. He is a young farmer and a wise man. It was only yesterday that I took a group of French and British journalists to see him on his farm. There he was, standing tall in his field, cutting the hay while others were collecting it. During the course of an interview conducted under the shade of an apple tree, Eugen was asked why he refuses to sell his land. “My land guarantees my future and that of my children. I could be employed by a company and then be laid off after a year or two; my land cannot lay me off. If I work it, it will nourish me,” he says.
Later on the journalists told us about their interviews with RMGC representatives. Very different it was: much corporate talk and little concrete answers in air-conditioned rooms with palm trees hiding corners. Whereas at times air-conditioned offices, palm trees and empty talk seem to make an impression, they clearly didn’t make any impression on the journalists and as we discuss RMGC we all remain amazed as to how as dicey a venture as this could be taken seriously at all.
Probably no one really does take them seriously. But the authorities want to cash in as much as they can, and Newmont, the American miner, which holds a stake in RMGC’s project, needs to invest to appease its shareholders; there are RMGC’s investors waiting to sell their shares once the environmental license has been granted which in return is the point in time when the mining project will reach maximum value. And there is Gabriel Resources, the Barbados registered mother of all, whose raison d’étre becomes clear once one realises that its directors will receive million dollar bonuses if they manage to sell the mining project. Finally there is Frank Timis, the father of it all with two drug convictions for the possession of heroin. He recently lost the City of London 200 million pounds by telling some fund managers a bunch of lies by vastly exaggerating the extent of the gold deposits at Rosia Montana. Frank hasn’t been in Rosia Montana for some time now, but amazingly his fairy tale still appeals to some.
And amongst all that crazy, abstract world of speculation, greed and salesmen of illusions there are those resource rebels who couldn’t care less about it all. And right they are. They just want to move on and realise their aspirations. The thought of them makes me smile. At times the campaign here is like living an Asterix and Obelix cartoon. A group of incredibly creative locals facing a rigid, saturated empire. You can guess the outcome as well as I can and in contrast to RMGC they have time on their side and the advantage of knowing the terrain, and their rights.
I came to Rosia Montana just over three years ago; making my way on the very windy road I am travelling now. Rosia Montana has touched the lives of everyone who made the effort to come here, be it for a few days or years. Perhaps this is why the campaign to save Rosia Montana has become Romania’s largest civil movement whilst at the same time winning widespread international acclaim. What is certain is that it is not a fancy but a real, crude and hard battle that requires integrity, faith and tenacity. It is a struggle about what it is to be human.
Just think of it: here is a bunch of locals who managed to convince the World Bank not to invest in the mine; the same people who were able to unite all of the country’s main churches not to sell their properties. Basically from wherever you look – be it the Romanian Academy or the European Parliament – all have expressed serious concerns and opposition against the mine development. Best of all is Alburnus Maior’s line of action towards the veritably inept phenomenon called Romania’s government. They just sue them, continuously. Of course, I could be sitting in a smart office making a good salary, comfortable and content. But how could I, when there is the campaign to Save Rosia Montana; this incredibly dynamic and colourful force fighting against all odds for those necessary changes that are vital to return faith and stability.
The car makes a sudden halt; we have arrived at Alba Iulia’s court. We check the time. It’s too late for that initial coffee we hoped for and so we hurry to see the list that will tell us if and when we will hear the verdict.
‘Corridor hours’ follow; hours of waiting in a hallway whilst drinking an insipid brown liquid. Finally our case is called and we rush to hear. We are the only ones present. No RMGC hawk, no lifeless Musat & Associates lawyer – or musatei as we call them – and neither is there anyone from the Ministry for Culture and the Cults. Then comes the decision. ‘Alba Iulia’s Court of Appeal admits the action introduced by Alburnus Maior being the plaintiff … and the Ministry of Culture and the Cults Bucharest being the claimed and consequently annuls the Archaeological Discharge Certificate No. 4/15 January 2004 as issued by the claimed. Rejects the intervention request formulated by Rosia Montana Gold Corporation SA …’
As I realise that we have won, eighteen months of pressure and long nights seem to disperse, simply fall off and vanish. I feel lighter, so much lighter and in the back of my mind images surface of how it all started in the first place. How could any one of us ever forget all about Cirnic, the mountain that RMGC so much wants to blow up. A mountain bursting with unique archaeological treasures and importantly a protected mountain which the Ministry for Culture and the Cults had transferred to RMGC. Today it has been returned to whom it belongs. It has been returned to Romania.
Stefania, Floca and I decide to celebrate with friends later tonight but for now it’s time for toasting with coffee and sending text messages bearing the good news. On the way back to Rosia Montana I weigh the implications of this legal precedent. RMGC will fight back no doubt; and they will appeal while at the same time publicly play down our victory. They have to; it’s their job. ‘Let them come,’ I say to myself, ‘let them come,’ looking out on that same road – this time back to Rosia Montana. It is different; at least one of those thousand possibilities, one of those thousand stories of life without end has broken through, and the sun is shining bright and high in the sky.
Stephanie Roth is Alburnus Maior’s campaign coordinator. She was recently awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize for her contribution towards the campaign to ‘Save Rosia Montana’.
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