This used to be my playground…

By Alexandra Roman

A place up in the mountains. Narrow streets. Old houses. People carrying their lives like they’ve been here since forever and will still be here for a long while. Will they..??

If you take a closer look, you notice that most of the houses seem lifeless. No move around them, although it’s spring and everybody should be busy outside or inside the house, trying to chase away the last signs of winter. But the people who should be there are gone now, and the houses are abandoned. It’s like they are waiting to collapse under the noise of heavy machines and the smell of dynamite.

Ro?ia Montan? is going in two different directions: one side wants to carry on just like until now, while the other side would turn its back to all that this mining town has ever represented, for a handful of money. The gold is out of the question; the people will only see it in the colorful pictures of the mining company. The unrest is caused by the thin limit between these two directions. Each side has its own arguments and the conviction that the truth is in their hands. The truth is that the purpose is basically the same: well-being. It’s just that the meaning of this “well-being” is very different.

For some people, well-being means a quiet place, where they can breathe a clean air and watch their children grow up healthy, running up and down the hills. But for others, the well-being is the reward of a monstrous excavation of several mountains to get the gold which has been anyhow extracted in this place for thousands of years, but without displacing the inhabitants and destroying the environment. Until recently, people and nature were one; there was no need to destroy one of them, so that the other could survive. Now, all of a sudden, this doesn’t work anymore; something must be sacrificed. Some people call this “progress”.

To illustrate how this kind of “progress” leaves deep wounds on the environment, but especially in the hearts of the people, I will tell you a short story:

Not far away from Ro?ia Montan?, just over a couple of hills, where you can now see a huge lake of blood-colored sterile waste, it was the place where my grandparents and my father were born and grew up. The village of Geam?na is now almost gone; the lake is growing continuously, as a result of the copper mining in Ro?ia Poieni, swallowing trees and houses, and my grandparents’ house has long been under the surface of the poisonous lake. I wonder what they would say if they could see how this place, which was their home, now looks like. If they would understand that all was done for a „noble” purpose; who cares about some houses, the cemetery, the church, which are all covered now by the poison? A single glance over a once beautiful and lively valley it’s enough to give you goose bumps.

Do we really want to see this in Ro?ia Montan? as well? The problem is that here it would be a lot bigger and much more poisonous. The question is: what for? Or better yet, for whom? In any case, not for those who are still living in Ro?ia Montan? or for their children, but for a few foreigners who haven’t seen Ro?ia Montan? except on scale models.

As for those who were born in Ro?ia Montan?, if they ever come here again, they would ask themselves where are the places where they grew up, their parents’ house, the streets they used to walk, the trees that offered them their shade. Well, they won’t find any of these, but instead, an enormous pit will make them think: “This used to be my playground…”


Compassion: The Secret Weapon

Photo by Bill Hoenk

In the wake of the terrorist bombing at the Boston Marathon in America, seeing photos of innocent men, women and children confused and in pain, missing legs and loved ones, their lives shattered, I feel an intense emotion arise within me and I tell myself that we, as a human community, must cleanse ourselves of the disease that twists our perception of this world into a place of self-gain where our view becomes so distorted that we seek to harm others. This disease threatens to destroy us, as a species, or, at the very least, to destroy millions of lives as it has done so for thousands of years. Do we have the capacity to change?

In reality, the root of what makes terrorists kill innocent people is the same root that causes a company to destroy a community for profit, a politician to accept a bribe that cheats his constituents or a man to tell lies about his neighbor; the sense of separation. The feeling that we are different from one another, that we do not possess a commonality leads to prejudices that says I am better than you, that my country is better, my religion, my color, my name. From there, it is only a short step to justify our anger towards our neighbor, our resentment of his gains that, somehow, he doesn’t deserve what he gets. Yet, it never enters our minds even once that, like the Sun, God shines His light on all of us unconditionally and that our life is the way it is because we have made it so.

Since coming to Rosia Montana last year, I have come to realize that open-pit mining is not the biggest threat to this community. The biggest threat comes from each of us. It comes from how we look upon each other without compassion. Compassion is the understanding that human beings are simply acting according to how they see the world. It is one of the greatest tools a community can possess and makes a nation strong but it starts with us, as individuals.

Everyone deserves compassion but do not think compassion is weak. Compassion is infinitely strong and with it, you will better understand those with whom you disagree. That understanding has the capacity to bring solutions for a compromise or a new strategy to win your “enemies” hearts and bring them onto your side. It may be that differences remain and that no compromise is possible, but you will do your duty with love and not hate.

It’s not easy; facing a company or someone you disagree with is not an easy task for most of us. Yet, compassion softens your eyes and you begin to see the situation in a different way because you see the world in a different way. You begin to perform actions that are of benefit to all and become less interested in actions purely for self-gain.

In that moment, you understand that your neighbor is simply seeking happiness and security in the best way he knows how, that a company is lead by individual men and women and those men and women are simply seeking happiness and security in the only way they know. You realize that under all the pretension and hoopla and frenzied activity we all seek the same thing; we simply want to be happy, to know peace.

In truth, we do share a bond; it’s the bond of being human.

We have all been given the opportunity to make this world a paradise and though our definition of paradise may differ, let us remember what we are seeking – happiness.

And that, my friend, is compassion.

Getting it Right: The problem is not the miners; it’s the mining company

On my way to the Rosia Montana Cultural Foundation’s office this morning, I passed a group of Rosia Montana Gold Corporation (RMGC) employees who have been working on a water pipe and rebuilding a stone wall near the house where I live. As they have every morning for the past several weeks, each one looked me in the eye and nodded his head or said “Nea?a!” (Morning!). Responding with my own nod and an American-accented version of “Buna diminea?a!” I realized something about the controversial open-pit mining issue here in Rosia Montana; these men have jobs in a country where jobs are scarce.

That’s not the problem.

The problem is that the objectives of the mining company are destructive and unsustainable not that men and women are their employees.  This is an important distinction and one that we should all understand well for within its understanding is a voice that calls out “The people need jobs!” and a clue to a major weakness in the mining company’s position: their employees are not loyal to the company; they are loyal to a job.

Miners pass by propaganda by Rosia Montana Gold Corporation

Miners passing by a propaganda banner raised by Rosia Montana Gold Corporation.
Photo by Alexandra.

I sometime’s notice how convenient it is for those opposing the mine to resent the men and women who wear the “green and yellow jackets” of the mining company forgetting that RMGC is just a means for these individuals to feed their families, pay their children’s doctor bills and have money to take care of their elderly parents in a country where rural jobs are hard to find. Should we blame them?

Instead, let us renew our efforts to develop and offer real alternatives for the locals who want nothing more than a good paying job. Rebuilding a stone wall, repairing a water pipe, renovating a house and laying a new road; these can all be done rather as part of a sustainable tourist development project than an unsustainable, open-pit mining operation that destroys communities and the environment.

When the opposition can offer a real plan of sustainable economic development and take concrete steps to make it happen, we will see support for the project evaporate like a morning mountain mist once it feels the Sun. Will it be easy? Of course not, for RMGC knows well how to play the corporate game; they have spent years and millions of dollars not only promoting the open-pit mine as the only savior of Rosia Montana but also influencing local regulations and implementing depopulation strategies that have nearly destroyed the Rosia Montana community.

However, it is they who hold the weak hand. Their only true support are themselves, board members who sit in their offices in Toronto and seek profit at any cost. Even their stakeholders are not loyal.

The men and women of Rosia Montana who work for RMGC want to take responsibility for their lives. They know the cost to their community; they see the vacant homes, the buildings falling into ruin and the company misinformation that leads to division and conflict but they feel stuck; they need a job.

Let’s give it to them. Let the green and yellow jackets of the mining company fade from memory but let us keep the spirit of those who wore them alive through truly sustainable jobs. For their spirit of hard work, responsibility and duty is the foundation upon which a great community is built. And, together, we shall see Rosia Montana prosper, again, not only for our generation, but for all generations to come.

What IS Necessary in the Promised Land?

Last night I watched The Promised Land, the 2012 American made film starring Matt Damon about a natural gas salesman whose job it is to sell a small farming community in Iowa on fracking, the controversial technique of pumping millions of gallons of water and chemicals deep into the earth to release natural gas deposits found in shale.

The film was a reminder that when millions and billions of dollars are at stake, corporations will call in “the experts” to do what is necessary in order to secure the required permits, contracts and positive environmental impact assessments. Of course, in most cases, this process begins with the people who live in the communities affected and whose permission the company needs to proceed. From the company’s perspective, doing what is “necessary” does not need to include principals and human values. And this is what the film is about; a company doing “what is necessary” in order to achieve their goal – to make as much money as possible.

Since coming to Rosia Montana in September 2012, I have heard local residents speak of the tactics Rosia Montana Gold Corporation has used throughout the years in order to sell the people, and the Romanian government on the idea that removing the four mountains that surround their village is in their best interests and the country’s best interests. At first these tactics involved presenting their plan as the best plan for the future of Rosia Montana – economically, culturally and environmentally. However, most of the locals were skeptical of the company’s story. Besides, this was their land the company was asking them to abandon, land of their fathers and their father’s fathers.

So the company did what companies do when they have access to huge financial resources; they called in the experts. They brought in their management team, their public relations team, their home acquisition team… even a psychologist to study the people and the community in order to find their weakness… the weak link that could be pulled apart in order to separate them from their land, their community and their heritage.

According to published reports and the stories of those who remain, the company began to present themselves as the savior of the community, a great fatherly benefactor whose only care was for the happiness of the people.

At the same time, the company began to buy the houses of Rosia Montana, starting with those whose bond to the land was not strong. As these people left, they would bulldoze the house to the ground or leave them to fall into ruin, stark reminders that it was they who were in control. It’s been reported that company men would break the windows of vacant houses and fill them with garbage in order to surround holdouts with scenes of decay and disgust.

For those who still refused, company representatives aggressively pursued the occupants, sometimes on a daily basis, sometimes more, telling them the best thing they could do would be to sell their home and move to beautiful company housing in a town 80 km away. If they still refused, their talk would turn to threats of physical and financial harm.

But this was only one aspect. The company began to buy favorable opinions, using their vast financial resources to offer money, jobs and goods to public officials, local residents and others who would favor the company in regulations, votes and referendums. In another strategy to kill the community, Rosia Montana was designated a mono-industrial site and only those businesses that supported mining were supported.

In reality, that was the plan of the company; to kill the community. They could not have a community and the mine at the same time. They needed to break up the community, to create division and discord, to destroy any vestige of community.

But the company made a mistake; they did not realize the ferocity and determination with which some of the locals would fight to keep their land and homes, their way of life. Like the locals in the movie, The Promised Land, for some, there is something much more important than money and something much more sinister about how the company came to take their land and homes.

So what is necessary in the Promised Land? A company’s drive for profit or a people’s spirit to live free, close to the land, close to their hearts?

It seems there is something else besides profit in the promised land… something the company’s board members do not see. But in their struggle to steal away the riches of Rosia Montana, they’ll have their chance.