by Raluca Besliu. Originally published on 2013/06/24

In a potentially game-changing decision, Europa Nostra, the leading European heritage organization, alongside the European Investment Bank Institute, selected Rosia Montana as one of the “7 Most Endangered Landmarks” in Europe out of 42 candidates from 21 different countries. The announcement was made at a press conference on the 12th of June, 2013, in Athens. As Europa Nostra skillfully describes it, Rosia Montana mining landscape, one of the most representative in Europe, “is seriously threatened by a large-scale, open-cast gold mining project.” According to Gabriel Resources Ltd., the Canadian company behind the scheme, the plan for the project is to dig up the estimated 800-4,000 tons of gold squirreled away in Rosia Montana using an astonishing amount of 40 tons of cyanide per day. Exploiting the mine would mean destroying four forested mountains, contaminating multiple rivers, devastating several fragile ecosystems and destroying over 900 buildings. It would also require the damming up of one end of the Corna valley to hold 250 million tons of cyanide-laced waste generated by the gold leaching.

Rosia Montana’s selection among the most endangered European landmarks not only challenges the constantly-used fallacious information spread by the Canadian company and the Romanian government, which stressed that the Canadian project was the only solution for the area’s development, but also condemns open-pit mining and cyanide-based exploitation as a development strategy. Instead, Europa Nostra willingly takes on the Romanian government and the Canadian company and “promotes a model of sustainable development based on culture and cultural patrimony, on the interaction between development and cultural factors.

Being among the final seven will not only bring the endangered Romanian region to the forefront of European and international media’s attention as an important cultural and natural European landmark, but it will also provide it with a strategic rescue and rehabilitation plan and the needed funds to pursue it. During this summer, Europa Nostra will conduct rescue missions to the selected heritage sites, in order to determine how funding could be obtained through European Union funds or loans. The first rescue action plans will be presented at the European Heritage Policy Conference- on the 5th of December in Brussels.

As Mihai Gotiu stressed in an article, after constantly dismissing the existence of alternative development paths for Rosia Montana apart from the Canadian mining project, from now on, the Romanian authorities have the obligation to, at least, discuss and assess Europa Nostra’s proposed strategy. The mining project cannot be approved until all the available solutions are adequately considered. Not only that, according to Mrs. Breza, rejecting the Europa Nostra plan would be a horrible and unforgettable mistake on the part of the Romanian authorities, as they would not only be dismissing the efforts and support of several reliable  European banks, but also the EU’s intention to integrate cultural and natural heritage policies within development strategies. One of writers of Rosia Montana’s application for the “7 Most Endangered,” Stefan Balici stressed that, apart from highlighting Rosia Montana’s value, the application also proposed 10 specific projects -some of them already started- to develop the region by highlighting and making use of its patrimony, which Europa Nostra can integrate in its own rescue plan.

Moreover, according to Placido Domingo, Europa Nostra’s President, Rosia Montana and the other 6 monuments “were selected not only because they tell a fascinating story about our shared past, anchoring a sense of belonging to a European family, but also because they are highly valuable to the local communities who are strongly engaged in saving them.” For almost 15 years, the struggle between the Rosia Montana local community as well as national and international NGOs supporting it and the Canadian company, backed up by the different Romanian governments that have consecutively taken power, was unfair and unbalanced. Gabriel Resources used mass media to misinform the Romanian population about the project, by presenting a higher number of jobs than it will actually create and by promising an unrealistic post-exploitation environmental restoration process, while multiple high-level Romanian politicians have expressed their support for the mining project as the only solution for the region’s development. The Romanian President went so far as to accuse the Romanian parliamentarians of demagogy and cowardness for not approving the Canadian mining project as soon as possible. In turn, the project’s opponents were often silenced and excluded from mainstream media.  With the newly gained international attention and support as a result of its selection into the “7 Most Endangered” list, the opponents will hopefully gain more visibility and more supporters, which can, in turn, render the fight for Rosia Montana more equal.

Rosia Montana has taken its place on the Europa Nostra’s list alongside other noteworthy and vital European landmarks, including the Roman Amphitheater of Durres in Albania, the 17thcentury Vauban’s Fortifications in Briancon in France, and the Renaissance Monastery of San Benedetto Po in Italy. While Mrs. Breza claims that the seven selected sites were endangered for similar reasons -citing, among other issues, corruption and political negligence-, in Rosia Montana’s case, the scale of the potential destruction and the power of the mining project’s proposals set it apart from the other landmarks. In Rosia Montana, the damage would not only be cultural, but also environmental. Moreover, in the Romanian region’s case, Europa Nostra and its partners chose to oppose the Canadian company and Romanian government’s development project by outright decrying it as a danger for the region. They also put forth an alternative development model, based on respecting and highlighting national and European patrimony. Through its decision to select Rosia Montana, Europa Nostra is sending an important message to the European institutions to harmonize mining policies and ban cyanide-based mining in the European Union.

Its European recognition as valuable European landmark should bring Rosia Montana one step closer to being recognized as a UNESCO Heritage site. In 2012, the Romanian Ministry of Culture strategically refused to integrate Rosia Montana into the official list of monuments presented to UNESCO, despite the efforts and demands of several NGOs. In the Romania’s subsequent UNESCO proposal list, Rosia Montana should be at the top of the list.

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