Op-Ed: Romania's Rosia Montana excluded from UNESCO proposal list

Posted Nov 1, 2012 by Raluca Besliu
On Monday, the Romanian Ministry of Culture presented the list of monuments that it would like to see included in the UNESCO Heritage Sites.
House in Rosia Montana promised to be renovated by Canadian Mining Agency RMGC.
House in Rosia Montana promised to be renovated by Canadian Mining Agency RMGC.
The Ministry primarily plans on petitioning UNESCO to recognize as global patrimony certain Roman establishments situated on the lower Danube as well as the historical center of Sibiu.
While many Romanian areas deserve to be recognized as world patrimony, Rosia Montana is currently the crucial omission on the Ministry of Culture’s UNESCO proposal list, which will most likely displease many Romanian citizens and NGOs.
Rosia Montana is currently a highly disputed region in Romania due to possessing one of the largest undeveloped European gold deposits. A Canadian mining company seeks to exploit the gold resources through a dangerous extraction method, which would employ 40 tons of cyanide daily. The detonations through which the mining operations would be conducted would undoubtedly destroy the four mountains surrounding the Rosia Montana as well as most of the village’s already precarious buildings.
However, the Rosia Montana area represents an invaluable historic and socio-cultural heritage of global importance. Mining, cyanide free, has occurred here since before Roman times. In the 18th and 19th centuries, several ceramic plaques containing Roman buy-sell agreements were discovered. The mines themselves, many still preserved, are of historic value, as they hold important information about the exploitation technique used by the Romans in Rosia Montana. This technique is completely different from than employed in other parts of Europe, such as Portugal and Spain, and therefore deserves to be protected, compared and contrasted with the others.
Moreover, most of the houses in Rosia Montana date back to the 18th and 19th century and hold testimony to an architectural diversity characteristic of Transylvania, while the village in its entirety represents a traditional mining settlement, unique in the world.
Including Rosia Montana as world patrimony has been a key objective of many NGOs striving to save the village and its surroundings from the disastrous Canadian mining project. One such campaign, Save Rosia Montana, aims to correctly inform the population on Rosia Montana’s real development potential, as opposed to that claimed by the Canadian mining company’s numerous advertisements, and on the value of including Rosia Montana in UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
In 2010, the campaign launched a photographic petition aimed at underlying the strong public support for Rosia Montana’s inclusion in UNESCO International Patrimony. Save Rosia Montana also initiated a petition campaign demanding not only that Rosia Montana become a Heritage Site, but also that the Canadian mining initiative as well as the legislative project allowing mining companies to expropriate resistant local inhabitants be ceased. In 2011, when the petition had been signed by over 100,000 Romanian citizens, it was submitted to the Chamber of Deputies of the Romanian Parliament.
As usual, no adequate response was given, as many Romanian politicians have expressed their support for the Canadian project. With their own government neglecting their demands, Romanians have taken their Rosia Montana demands to a higher forum, the European Parliament. Two petitions, sent by Ad Astra, an association of Romanian scientists, on alleged infringement of Community legislation in connection with the Roşia Montană project, and by the Roșia Montană Cultural Foundation, regarding the project’s damaging effects on the environment, were discussed at the end of 2011. Unfortunately, the European Parliament’s PETI Comission has yet to take a final decision in this case.
Nevertheless, Romanian citizens and NGOs continue their fight against the project. Ensuring that Rosia Montana is recognized as world heritage would save it from the Canadian mining project, but it would also most likely secure UNESCO funding for the rehabilitation and conservation of areas in need, increase its international visibility and the region’s number of tourists.
When asked about Rosia Montana’s inclusion on the list, the Minister of Culture, Puiu Hasotti, simply stated that he has received no new information about the mining project’s impacts on the area. What the Minister seems to forget is that, regardless of the Canadian mining initiative’s dangerousness, the village and the surrounding region deserve to be recognized as international patrimony, because of their intrinsic historic and socio-cultural value mentioned above.
The Romanian Minister’s answer suggests his lack of interest and respect for the Romanian civil society’s constant petitions and movements in favor of including Rosia Montana among UNESCO Heritage Sites. It is disheartening to see that politicians, who have been elected to represent their people’s wishes, can easily turn their back on and pretend not to hear even the most vocal and well-argued demands.