Un articol despre Rosia Montana.
Canadians go home!
Even the promise of a golden payoff isn't enough to make many of the villagers
of Rosia Montana willing to give up their history and move away. They want a
Canadian mining company to just go away
Sunday, May 29, 2005
The thought of gold makes 73-year-old Ghizi Ster burst into tears.
After working 40 years in a state-owned gold mine to afford an earthen-walled
house with a wooden hen coop and a yard to grow vegetables, Ster discovered, to
her horror, that a Canadian mining company wants to blast her property.
Toronto-based Gabriel Resources plans to turn three forested mountaintops in
Romania's historic Rosia Montana region into craters to extract 330 tonnes of
gold from 220 million tonnes of rock.
In the process, Gabriel would turn Ster's village of Rosia Montana and the
adjoining village of Corna into Europe's biggest open pit gold-mining complex,
filling a scenic river valley with cyanide-laced refuse.
The $600-million project holds the promise of creating jobs in an impoverished
mining region hard hit since the fall of communism. But for the project to
start, 2,000 villagers have to sell their houses to the company or agree to a
relocation package. At least 1,000 of them, rooted in a traditional way of
life, have vowed never to leave Rosia Montana - not for all the gold in the
Ster is one of them. "I was born here and when I die I want to be buried next
to my mother and to my father in this soil," she said, dabbing her tears with
her scarf. "Let the Canadians go back where they came from."
That might not happen soon.
As a result of Romania's privatization reforms, two Canadian companies -
Gabriel and European Goldfields - have acquired majority stakes in open-pit
mining projects that cover an area of at least 200 square kilometres in this
densely populated part of western Transylvania.
The Rosia Montana project is the only one to have reached the stage of
environmental permits - the last step before exploitation. Its outcome could
influence the other Canadian projects in the area, said Mihaela Lazarescu, a
researcher with the Romanian Environment Institute.
"This whole thing is an aberration," Lazarescu said. "The project could never
start, even if they get an environmental permit, because they just won't manage
to move the villagers from the affected zone. Romanians are attached to their
land and they won't budge."
Nonetheless, Gabriel Resources is forging ahead, with some major backing on the
Toronto Stock Exchange. In March, a group of investors, led by the Bank of
Montreal, bought $30 million of Gabriel shares - money that will finance the
project through the environmental permitting process, said Gabriel corporate
vice-president Simon Lawrence.
Lawrence downplayed the impact of the recalcitrant villagers. So far, he said,
the company has acquired 44 per cent of the properties in the area affected by
the project. This means roughly 900 villagers have sold their land, in some
cases for as much as $100,000.
With the average income in the area hovering at around $100 a month
(supplemented by a few hens and perhaps a cow), there is a strong incentive to
sell. Acquiring the rest of the properties is only a matter of time, said
"Maybe (the remaining villagers) are hanging on for a higher price or want to
bargain for a better deal," Lawrence said.
Nonsense, countered Eugen David, head of the association of villagers that
represents 400 families who oppose the project.
"The company came here, saw us poor and they imagined they could buy us all,
but they were wrong," said David, sitting on a log and watching the sun setting
over the Rosia Montana valley from his porch.
In his yard a rooster arched his neck in a cry that drowned the trickling of a
The 40-year-old spends his days tending to his 30 hens, 10 cows and two oxen.
"We don't need their money," said David. "We're free and we have all we need
here. The Canadian investors are wasting their money because we just won't
The inhabitants of Rosia Montana and of the neighbouring villages are known to
the Romanians as "motzii," a people who throughout history have resisted
outside domination - sometimes violently.
In 1848, as Hungary annexed Transylvania, Rosia Montana's priest, Rev. Balint,
donned soldier's clothes and, according to legend, even took into battle the
village's women alongside the men to fight Austro-Hungarian troops.
"They died for us, so we could live a good life here," said a tearful Francisc
Ciura, 73, the son of a goldsmith who lost everything when the Communists
nationalized the gold mines in 1948. "And now they want me to sell my house?
Never. I'll never sell."
Minerva Vadan, 73, didn't want to part with her property in the first place,
but as the visits of company agents multiplied, she sold her house last year.
She didn't touch a penny of the money, though. Her grandson pocketed it all,
she said. But she kept a key for the back door and last month, she came back to
Rosia Montana to live in a house she no longer owned.
"I don't know how much longer they'll let me stay here," she said, as two tears
rolled down her furrowed cheeks. "I've lost everything. I'm old, I'm sick, I
don't have a house, and I don't even have money. I wish they'd let me die here
Angela Filipas, the official with the environment department who oversees the
permitting process, said no fixed timetable has been set for a decision.
Before a verdict can be reached, the government will seek input from the
neighbouring countries, since the project would use cyanide leaching to
separate the gold from the rock.
In 2000, after an accident at a cyanide leaching plant in Romania, the
poisonous substance found its way into the rivers of neighbouring Hungary. This
year, Hungary has submitted as many as 60 questions to the Romanian environment
department as part of the environmental permitting process, Filipas said.
Lawrence brushed aside the possibility of another disaster, and said he was
confident the project would get the green light.
Even without an environmental permit, Gabriel has a firm foothold in Rosia
The Canadian company is operating under the umbrella of a joint venture with
the Romanian state - Rosia Montana Gold Corp., owned 80 per cent by Gabriel
At least three of 13 local councillors are on Gold Corp's payroll and the
editor of the local newspaper is a spokesperson for the corporation.
In 2003, Rosia Montana was left without a doctor for almost a year after the
local medic sold his business to Gold Corp. And local businesses have seen
sales drop by half since the company came around, said Sorin Jurca, who owns a
convenience store in the piata, the village's square.
By the local priest's account, Rosia Montana is slowly dying.
"Not even the coming of angels could gather the villagers as they used to be,"
said Father Vasile Oprisa, 49. "Where the Gold Corporation has made its
headquarters, people used to dance and sing. Now, everybody's stressed,
everybody's worried. Nobody knows what will happen."
The director of the state-owned gold mine at Rosia Montana, however, considers
Gabriel's foreign investment a godsend.
"Without an investment here, the mine is set to close down," said Valentin Rus,
speaking from behind a laptop and a desktop computer in his newly furnished
Apart from managing the mine, Rus also sits on the local council and on Gold
Corporation's administrative council.
Currently, the mine employs 500 workers, but the gold extracted can only pay
for half of the operating costs. The Romanian state foots the rest of the bill.
This is due to end in 2007, the year Romania joins the European Union and when
all subsidies to the mining industry end.
"We don't know what to expect," said Ioan Lup, 50, the driver of a rusted train
that hauls the rock out of the open pit and into the processing plant.
"I don't care much about who comes here or what they do, as long as things get
better," said Lup.
On this matter, Lawrence was reassuring.
"We firmly believe that we have the solution for the area," he said. Gabriel
will bring in "world-class" technology to extract the gold, Lawrence said.
As for the villagers who don't want to leave the area, they are being offered
North American-style houses on a nearby plateau.
But losing the idyllic landscape, even to the promise of a lucrative job, is
not an option for some.
"I can't imagine my life without these mountains," said 20-year-old Florin
Onisie, sitting in the village's "krishma," a low-lit tavern with four tables,
where locals gather to drink and tell stories.
"The longest time I've spent outside Rosia was one week; and after a few days I
got homesick and had to come back," he said, as he took a sip from his beer.
"The day we'll kick the Gold Corporation out of Rosia, I'll throw the longest
feast the world has ever seen," he said.
"I'll be so happy that I might even drive myself into an alcohol-induced coma."
© The Gazette (Montreal) 2005
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