Environmentalism at its finest....
Trip Start Oct 15, 2007
17Trip End Dec 20, 2007
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I have been making some great environmental contacts here in Romania. This Peace Corps couchsurfing guy connected me to the Peace Institute and to the Rosia Montana Initiative and the connections from there continue to surface. I learn about the issue with GMOs in Romania, the work being done to green up the schools and, Horatiu, a consultant who was working with the WWF, tells me about a program to protect the bears in Maramures, in northern Romania. He also tells me about Arnica and how its grows wild in Romania and the efforts to maintain the traditional farming methods that allow it to flourish at the same time increasing the profit to the growers rather than the middle people handling the distribution. All of this is fascinating to me...who would've thought, an arnica protection program...but over and over I hear about Rosia Montana and I meet with local activists to learn as much about it as I can.
A short version of the story is impossible but some key points....Rosia Montana (RM) is one of the oldest Romanian towns and its up in the mts outside of Cluj. It's got ancient archaeological sites, beautiful forested landscapes, and has been a mining town for a very long time. The techniques used in the open pit mining of gold, silver, and copper have destroyed the water quality and left gaping holes in the mountains (you can see the huge copper mine on satellite imagery)...as well as toxic tailings ponds containing heavy metals and oodles of cyanide used in the processing. Although much of the land/water has been spoiled by this, a Canadian company, Gabriel Industries, wants to begin a whole new open pit mine for gold & silver. The plan is to buy out the town, eradicate the community as it presently exists, dig out 7 mountains for open pit mineral excavation, build a processing plant, create new tailings ponds....it goes on....They have been trying to get started for about 6 years but in that same time a very effective movement, the Rosia Montana Initiative, driven by quite a few unrelenting envtl activists, has been thwarting their progress. I meet with and interview people involved in the initiative over the course of a few days....they are young, passionate, and completely dedicated, and have formulated a very impressive movement. And have been able to sustain their momentum over the course of 5/6/7 years....and most remarkably, it looks like they're winning... I meet with the media people, professional artists that have created a comprehensive and striking media campaign in response to Gabriel's well funded propagandizing. I meet with people who were students when they first got involved...they have organized marches (from Cluj to Rosia --- 160 km.) , they've held green music festivals for 4 years, highlighting environmental issues and drawing up to 10,000 people...they have made videos, created petitions, and have spoken at schools, community centers...everywhere they've been asked. And having realized that their most effective tools at this point are lawsuits aimed at making it impossible for Gabriel to continue, they are currently concentrating their efforts there. I am so impressed and inspired by the work they have done...coming from a place of limited, actually undeveloped skill and experience to now understanding the art of community organizing...some have gone into law, some into envtl science prompted by their involvement in this project.
Of course, I want to drive to RM to see the community for myself. We take our little rental Citroen (without those important snow tires), and drive along the river and into the mts for about 2 ½ hrs. It's all good until the last 7 km which is uphill and thick with snow and ice. We follow the truck from which this man is throwing sand across the road. It helps...we get there...it's a beautiful small town... But, one of the first things we notice is that Gabriel has tacked its signs on most of the buildings in town. They are creating visible conquests in the town take-over. More appallingly we see the children leaving from school, each with their green Gabriel backpacks snug to them. Gabriel is contributing to the school budget (one of the pending lawsuits). I walk thru town and see more of the same...a playground built by Gabriel...a community garden...Gabriel again...it's creepy. But in an effort to understand both sides of the story (and to get out of the thigh deep snow), we visit with Magda, a Romanian woman working for Gabriel. She has agreed to sell her home to them...they have agreed to build her a new one with money left over for her relocation. She is well spoken and very hospitable to us... she has her information down and is able to answer all our questions, at the same time warming us with tea and arming us with all sorts of videos/booklets.....high quality propaganda...she puts a very human face on the opposition...and one can understand how important the project is for her....money, a new house...she believes Gabriel will create lots of employment and, to me hardest to believe, will clean up after themselves !! AND they say they will clean up from the previous generations of mining. Magda has bought the company line and sincerely trusts what she has been told...and she cannot be faulted...
As an environmentalist, there is no doubt about my position. I cannot even begin to think that gold and silver are worth moving mountains and displacing people for...that anything is worth this type of envtl destruction. And probably 5 years ago, in a town named Baia Mares in northern Romania, there was a cyanide based, open pit gold mine catastrophe. There was a leakage of the tailings pond and the waterways in 3 neighboring countries were affected by toxic materials in the water. That left a huge impact in the minds of people, yet I can see the difficult struggle faced by the RM initiative, the resistance. It's a classic case of an underfunded grassroots movement fighting a well funded corporation that has the ability to pursue until it's goals are met...but the resistance intends also to pursue, until the operation is shut down... this is a battle worth following...I'm glad I came up here to see for myself...but now with the snow, it's time to head down the mountain.
But while we have been talking and walking around town, nature has been asserting its own interests. The road is ice covered...we take off knowing that tomorrow it will only be worse...I'm confident, - I've driven in the worst of snowy/icy conditions...but no more than 10 seconds out, I'm hanging the car over the edge of a ditch. Thankfully, from out of nowhere a group of Romanians appear, and push the car out. It's Lisa's turn...I'm easily willing to concede, a trait I rarely express...we don't have snow tires and I'm convinced the only thing that's going to get us down this mountain is chains...Lisa behind the wheel now....within 10 seconds we're sliding out of control towards a wall and we end up banked on the other side of the road. Clearly this is not going to happen. I'm thinking we might be here for the winter...I'm thinking about how I might have to walk the 7 km to get to Prague in time to meet Corey. But Magda, bless her heart, decides she can get the car down the mountain...no problem she says, seeming to me a bit overconfident...but I don't see we have much other choice and she is a local and a confident and willing one at that. Part of me wonders when the last time she drove a car was but as I said, I'm trying to have faith and there don't seem to be a lot of options... We wait a bit, a plow sort of scrapes some of the ice off of part of the road...but it's still in Magda's hands and she's totally psyched...I'm going to just cheer her on from deep in my heart. We buckle our seat belts and she's off...sailing down the worst of it...never braking....I know she's got no traction but that doesn't stop her...she passes cars neatly...I'm quietly sending her my energies of concentration and support...and eventually, we're down....an impressive feat...Magda's our heroine of the day...we drive the rest of the snowy way along the river back to Cluj....our CS host Frank welcomes us back and wants to hear all about it...