Tag Archives: gold mining

Rosia Montana: Are We Drawing to a Close?

On the 9th of December, a referendum was organized in 35 small Romanian localities within the mining region where the Roşia Montană project is supposed to take place. The decision to hold the referendum on the same day as the legislative elections was obviously neither coincidental, nor just a sensible cost-savings measure. Rather,the not-so-secret hope was that merging two deliberative issues for the same ballot would secure a good turnout and push the controversial project beneath the door and then up the decision makers’ table. After all, there are other examples from the recent past that consolidated this mechanism. But it so happened that the referendum had to be invalidated due to an insufficient turnout.

In the event that the referendum expressed the will of the local people to restart mining in the area, the corporation, project advocates, and politicians who have over the last years been reciting the mantra of job creation would have hailed its outcome as a clear triumph of democracy over demagogy and misinformation. But would it have really been so?

If, in 2002, when the Local Council voted that Roşia Montană should be transformed from a residential area into an industrial area, thus making it virtually impossible for any alternative economic activity to develop there, a referendum had been organized and the ‘will of people’ had spoken in one voice, it would have been more difficult to criticize now this proof of sham democracy.  But the major questions still remain, and, moreover, no significant effort is being made to answer them. Why should this project be simply a matter of securing jobs and temporary welfare for a community who is indeed very poor? After all, there should be more talk about non-renewable resources, environmental and legal protection mechanisms, and fair distribution of stakeholder responsibilities. Such issues are not strictly of local interest, but if the referendum had been held at national level, it is very plausible to say that not only  it would have been valid, but the project itself would had been rejected. It is still unclear to me whether a referendum, be it national, would be the best alternative to decide on such an issue. From one angle, it would just serve to cover decision makers in the voice and authority of the ‘people’, while preserving the same hazy distribution of responsibilities at policy level.

If, at the beginning of my posts on Roşia Montană, I saw this research topic riddled with questions, the answers to which would really make a difference, I rather tend to believe now that this project poses deep structural problems which must be addressed at their core, and not on a case-to-case basis.  Even if for the moment there is no definite answer on what is going to happen in that area, the fact that the referendum was invalidated should not be seen as a good sign by opponents of the projects. After all, it is a precedent procedurally approved, and it may be just a matter of time until it becomes successful.

Gold Mining at Roşia Montană: Will Lobbying Overshadow the Debate over Intergenerational Duties?

There is much talk these days in the Romanian media about the start of the gold mining project at Roşia Montană, a small community northwest of the country.

Over the past 15 years, the project has generated intense controversies and, recently, strong political pressure. That Roşia Montană is high on the political agenda is also confirmed by the intensive lobby which in 2010 reached the European Parliament aiming to persuade politicians that cyanide extraction of gold poses no threat to the environment. Opposition to the project has sometimes been criticized as a thin form of ecologism fuelled primarily by the high stakes of the project, and not by genuine environmental concerns.

However, what has so far been missing from the public debate is a serious discussion of the uncertainties surrounding this project, which are relevant for our duties to future generations.

Politicians who support the project (including the incumbent President) emphasize the stringent need of jobs for the locals and the urgency of making a decision in this case. This position has attracted equally categorical statements from other MPs, which claimed that ‘all still left as property of the Romanian state’ would thus be ‘sold’ and suggested that Ministers opposing the project were forced to resign.

In this context, the former Prime Minister’s recent statement, suggesting the unfairness of condemning a community of 5000 people to poverty ‘because we are thinking of what may happen’  should set the scene for different arguments.

Discussing the project in these terms is misleading. Even if the benefits it brings were as certain and substantial as its advocates argue, this could not justify brushing the remaining uncertainties off the debate.

For one thing, these uncertainties regard the environment:

– The fact that some states have not banned cyanide extraction of gold, while others have, does not necessarily show that this technology is safe rather than unsafe, as those in favour of the project argue. It may show that different countries have different protection mechanisms against risks or that they weigh and even afford risks differently.

– Some argue that this project is the unique opportunity to repair the environmental damage caused by mining under the communist regime. However, until the costs of such a repair are completely known and agreed on, massive unemployment in the area would not suffice to make it legitimate. Could we be confident that future generations would be better equipped than the present generation to protect themselves against the consequences of the potential, yet irreversible damage this mining project would cause?

– Finally, downplaying opposition to the project as ‘political ecologism’ exaggerating environmental concerns may have some appeal for those claiming Romanians do not have an ecologist conscience. Though this latter stance may be tenable, the environmental hazards invoked are a mix of uncertainties and social perception (amplification) mechanisms, and they should be compensated for by similar (i.e. environmental and institutional, not primarily employment related) guarantees.

This blog entry relates to research carried out under the ‘Rights to a Green Future’ project, WG4