Interview: Life and Death Under Ceausescu

The original article from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty may be found here.

Twenty years ago today, a revolt began in the western Romanian city of Timisoara that would culminate in the toppling of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s regime and his execution several days later.

Michael Meyer, who was “Newsweek’s” bureau chief for Germany, Eastern Europe, and the Balkans at the time, was the last American journalist to travel to Romania and interview Ceausescu before his fall, and one of the first to arrive in Bucharest after Ceausescu’s demise.

Meyer, who is the author of a recent book about the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, “The Year That Changed The World,” spoke with RFE/RL correspondent Eugen Tomiuc about life in Romania before and after Ceausescu’s fall and vividly recalled his hours-long meeting with the all-powerful dictator.

Living In A Prison

RFE/RL: You traveled quite extensively throughout Romania in preparation for your August 1989 interview with Nicolae Ceausescu. By that time, huge changes were gaining momentum in other countries of Eastern Europe. But Romania was an exception — almost completely isolated from the outside world, in the grip of a repressive and often violent security apparatus and marred by severe food and energy shortages. I remember that in the scorching summer of 1989 one could hardly find a bottle of cold water in shops or restaurants. Did you notice any sign of boiling anger in the country?

Michael Meyer: None whatsoever. Some of the cab drivers would listen to Radio Free Europe — and people I was able to speak to freely, because listening to Radio Free Europe was a crime against the state — there was some knowledge of what was going on; there was immense unhappiness with the regime.

I met a priest in a monastery in the foothills of the Carpathians; he was talking about how the stores [were empty], how people were starving, how he had to drive once a week 2 1/2 hours into Bucharest to get bread for his congregation and he’d drive back. And he talked about how people had to rise up, and he said, “Publish what I’m saying, this terrible regime that kills its people, that devours its people…tell them: ‘use my name,’” and, of course, I didn’t because I feared for this man’s life.

One taxi driver drove me around and he told me about how his mother and his wife spent most of their day standing in line so that when a shop started selling something — whether it was meat or apples or something else — a line would immediately form. You didn’t know what you were buying but you’d buy it anyway so you could trade it for something that you needed. He said that it was like life in a prison. And that’s what Romania was.

RFE/RL: Food was the most pressing of all the worries Romanians had back then, and some were saying that the regime, however repressive, would have been more tolerable had people had a little more than their meager food rations and fewer blackouts at night. Elderly people joked bitterly that the situation reminded them of the World War II years, only with less food.

Meyer: I remember [a scene in downtown Bucharest]: the American ambassador’s car, gleaming black, the stars and stripes aflutter cruising past as a woman, very neatly dressed in office garb, bent over the sidewalk and scraped an egg that she had dropped on to the sidewalk, broken, into a piece of paper and carefully folded up because a broken egg was so precious that she was taking it home to cook it.

Watch: On December 21, 1989, a speech by Romanian leader Nicolae Ceausescu was interrupted by unprecedented heckling, followed by four days of fighting between security forces, the army, and demonstrators. On Christmas Day, Ceausescu and his wife were convicted in a secret trial and executed by firing squad. (video by Reuters)

RFE/RL: When, after two weeks of traveling through Romania, Ceausescu finally decided to give you the interview at his Snagov summer residence outside Bucharest, what was your first impression when you saw him? Was his a glorious appearance, worthy of the “supreme ruler” that he was?

If I could go down contributing as much to my country as Stalin contributed to his own, I’d be happy to be seen in the light of history as a modern Stalin.

Meyer: In shuffled this little man in this ill-fitting suit and plastic woven slippers. He presented a moist weak palm to shake hands — this little man that Romanians feared as the tyrant, the all-powerful, all-knowing god on earth; this bent little figure, not very well-kempt, not very well combed, looking faintly deranged.

We took our places in little chairs and the interview began. And we had some questions we asked. We talked about shortages of food. And Ceausescu said, “How can there be shortages of food?” And I said, “Well, we go into stores and we see nothing on the shelves.” And Ceausescu said, “Well, that’s because it’s all kept in storage.”

More Like Stalin, Or Hitler?

RFE/RL: His answer proves that — in spite of some rumors at the time that the “great leader,” who was 71, might not have known what was happening in the country anymore — he was actually aware of the people’s hardships and was attempting to hide the truth. Did he give you the impression that he was still in firm control of Romania or, to the contrary?

Meyer: We asked him at one point whether he thought anyone would rise up against him in the way they are elsewhere, and what he thought about Tiananmen [Square protests of June 1989] and he said the Chinese authorities acted exactly as they should have — it’s the role of students to study and it’s the role of the government to keep order; of course they handled it appropriately.

["Newsweek" editor in chief] Ken Auchincloss, my boss, asked, “Does it bother you to be called the last Stalinist of Europe?” And he said, “Stalin had much to recommend him, if I could go down contributing as much to my country as Stalin contributed to his own, I’d be happy to be seen in the light of history as a modern Stalin.”

And we talked about the cult of personality, and he said: “Cult of personality? I am a man of my people, what cult of personality? All I do is bring good to my people. If that is a cult of personality, the world needs more such cults of personality.” And soon the question-and-answer [session] sort of gave way to these long speeches, with Ceausescu waving his fist in the air and pounding on the arm of his chair.

RFE/RL: During the interview, Ceausescu and Auchincloss were seated on a dais. From where you sat, you had a better view of the “Genius of the Carpathians,” as he liked to be referred to in the Romanian media. What struck you most about his appearance?

Meyer: I just began taking notes, and one of the notes said “balls,” and this was not editorial commentary, this was a literal observation. Ceausescu was sitting and I was looking at his testicles, resting on his seat, in his overlarge trousers, and they…they looked, like, as I wrote in my notebook, overripe tomatoes, sort of flattened, squatted there on his feet — malignant — them so big; him such a small dictator.

And I also made more objective notes about how this man seemed to have no humanity, he seemed to be a hollow vessel of ideas, and telling only about power and ranting on as I imagine [Swiss psychiatrist and thinker] Carl Gustav Jung looked at Hitler — the empty vessel to be filled with the unfulfilled hopes and yearnings of a people and then warped by power. That’s how I saw Ceausescu.

Nicolae Ceausescu on the cover of “Newsweek” in August 1989

RFE/RL: In your book, you evoke another tragicomic scene during the postinterview photo session that to me sounded almost like a premonition.

Meyer: We told him that since this is a cover story in “Newsweek,” we should show him in his most human guise and then we went out to this little dock protruded out of Lake Snagov, surrounded by little reeds.

He stood in the sunlight, [as] our photographer Peter Turnley was snap-snap-snapping away and at one point Peter touched his shoulder, to position Ceausescu in the light and this is a man who is never touched — he offered his hand to us, but touching him is really beyond the pale — so Peter touches him but the dictator almost loses his balance, he totters on one foot, he waves his little arms in little circles in the bright sun, and the concluding line in this chapter [in my book] is, “Would the ‘Danube of Thought’ [one of the glorifying titles attributed to Ceausescu] topple into the drink?”

The Stolen Revolution

RFE/RL: Unfortunately, he did not, and it would take another four months before a popular uprising in Timisoara would eventually spill into Bucharest and end with both Ceausescu and his wife being summarily executed after a mock trial on Christmas Day. By then, it had become apparent that the new power was less of a revolutionary council and more of a second party echelon taking over power from both Ceausescu and from the people who had risked their lives. You came back to Bucharest on the day of the execution, and got to meet some old acquaintances, now in revolutionary disguise.

Meyer: My minder, the head of my particular security detail on the visit during the summer [eds: most likely made up of Securitate operatives], he came to me and said, “Would you like to go off to the television station?” So he took me off and we went out the door and suddenly there was a bout of shooting and he didn’t even blink. I blanched!

He seemed to be very comfortable in this world. He took me to the television station, he drove right through the ring of soldiers guarding it with just a cursory nod, past the security at the doors, which had bullet holes in the windows, and up to the room where there happened to be a meeting in process of the National Salvation Front [the newly established provisional government].

There was [former communist apparatchik and future Romanian President Ion] Iliescu, there was [ex-communist dissident] Dumitru [Mazilu], and there was [General Victor] Stanculescu. He was the biggest surprise! He, of course, was the guy who [on December 22 had] ushered Ceausescu off the roof to the helicopter, and he was the fellow who [on December 25 was one of those who] organized the execution squad, and the trial that did Ceausescu in!

And then came that [deputy] foreign minister [Constantin Oancea], the man who sidled up to me when Ceausescu was entering the room for the interview [in August 1989]. I looked at him and he looked at me and he laughed and he said, “Funny to meet you here, Mr. Meyer.” Then said, “The lies I told you….” And I sort of laughed and told him, “Well, I didn’t believe anything you told me anyway,” and we had a good laugh.

RFE/RL: Twenty years after, there is still an ongoing debate as to what extent the 1989 events were a spontaneous revolution or a coup d’etat, in which many people died needlessly. What is your opinion?

Meyer: It took me a long time to piece together my impressions, but at the time I said: “Something is not adding up here. This is supposed to be a people’s revolution — it began as a people’s revolution, at least as far as I could tell in Timisoara — but it became something else once it arrived in Bucharest.”

You know, these were not leaders of a people’s uprising. These were an old guard, these were people who had great access, who were very comfortable moving in these circles. Clearly they were taking their lives in their hands, clearly they were taking great risks, but I did immediately begin to wonder, you know, OK, there’s clearly been a changing of the guard, a turning of the tide, and Ceausescu’s own people are turning against him.

It was a coup wrapped in a revolution. It was a hybrid, and it was a whiff of things to come. Just like the glory — la gloire — of the French Revolution turned to the terror. A lot of people needlessly lost their lives in Romania. The Romanian Revolution was a harbinger of Yugoslavia, with men of power manipulating events for their own ends.

Rosia Montana: Frank Timis Begins Gabriel Resources

Rosia Montana:
How It Began

This is a very informative, but concise, background history of the crisis at Rosia Montana from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
This is from Google's html version of the file: http://www-management.wharton.upenn.edu/henisz/Rosia(A)i.pdf
Professor Witold J. Henisz, The Wharton School, Sinziana Dorobantu, and Tim Gray prepared this case as the basis for class discussion rather than to illustrate either effective or ineffective handling of an administrative situation. Statements and opinions expressed in this case are those of the authors. They do not express the opinions of the Wharton School, University ofPennsylvania.

Rosia Montana: Political and Social Risk Management in the Land of Dracula

Although gold deposits are widespread, in one form or another, no one area has yielded its gold easily. Finding and producing gold demands immense effort relative to the amount of glittering yellow metal that makes its appearance at the end of the process.
—Peter Bernstein, author of “The Power of Gold: The History of an Obsession”
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Throughout history, those who came here to conquer our territories were always interested only in our gold. Romanians feel a need to protect this resource.
—Sulfina Barbu, former Romanian minister of the environment
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Even my best friends, even my best friends they don’t know
That my job is turning lead into gold
When you hear that engine, when you hear that engine drone
I’m on the road again and I’m searching for the philosopher’s stone
—Van Morrison, singer/songwriter of “Philosopher’s Stone”
.
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INTRODUCTION The crowd of miners thronged Rosia Montana’s tiny town square. They decried the cravenness of their country’s government and the chicanery of the cabal of politicians and nongovernmental organizations that was blocking the development of one of the largest unexploited gold deposits in the world.

Several carried coffins on their shoulders. Others had nooses cinched around their throats like  neckties. A few lugged trash barrels. The coffins, set down in the center of the square, became their pulpit. Joined by the mayor and a smattering of other local officials, the miners exhorted anyone within earshot that Rosia Montana would die unless the Romanian government approved a plan by a Canadian company to create Europe’s largest open-pit gold mine in the town. The coffins and nooses, they shouted, represented their future without the mine, and the trash cans, the places where they’d be forced to scavenge for food. “We want to work in mining, not beg in the West,” a banner proclaimed.

What the miners didn’t mention that day, but everyone in the town knew, was that the proposed mine—a project of Gabriel Resources Ltd. (Gabriel Resources), a publicly traded company listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange—would mean the end of Rosia Montana, a misty, rundown hamlet in Transylvania, the northwestern region of Romania. The gold that Gabriel Resources sought lay directly below the town, embedded in the rock like sugar in a cake.

To remove it, the Canadian firm, which did business locally as Rosia Montana Gold Corp., aimed to excavate much of the valley that cradled the town. It planned to blast and shovel the gold-infused rock from the earth, crush it, and then agitate the resulting gravel with a mixture of water and cyanide. The cyanide, a poison, would dissolve the gold and allow it to leach away for capture and processing. Cyanide-tainted wastewater would then flow into a large containment pond in an adjacent valley.

To unearth its golden bounty, Gabriel Resources had proposed relocating 974 households, including about 2,000 people, as well as local churches and cemeteries. A few kilometers down the road, the company would build the villagers modern houses with indoor plumbing, a rarity in a region where a paved road was a luxury. Or if the local folk preferred, the company would reimburse them for their homes, and they could spend the money however they liked. But not everyone was hungry for cash or a job at the proposed mine. Not everyone wanted to leave.

Now Gabriel Resources’ executives had to decide how to proceed. Early on, they’d assumed that their ties with the Romanian government and Rosia Montana’s poverty—more than half of the townspeople lacked jobs—would ensure approval of the mine. The intensity of the local resistance had surprised them. Not only had a portion of the villagers refused to leave, but the holdouts had organized themselves into a nonprofit group called Alburnus Maior to protest the company’s plans.

The publicity, which had begun to echo in Romania’s faraway capital of Bucharest, had complicated an already knotty undertaking. In laying their plans about how to move ahead, Gabriel Resources’ managers found themselves having to consider not just the costs and potential returns of the bet that they were making on the mine but also Romania’s historical, cultural, and political contexts. And everything in the country was proving more complicated than it seemed on the surface. Romanian realities, like the gold they sought, lay hidden and deep.

The miners, in the eyes of some Romanians, weren’t just unemployed tradesmen, desperate for work. They were thugs. In 1990, early in the country’s post-communist political transition, thousands of miners, clutching truncheons and clubs, had descended on Bucharest. There, they’d set upon protesters who were calling for a speedier transition to democracy. A decade later, Romanians still couldn’t agree on who had summoned them.

“The miners, they’re not exactly loved,” said one Gabriel Resources executive, “And we’re not very adored as a result. Do we have any influence over them? We don’t call them to action. They organize themselves. They wouldn’t listen to us if we tried. We just have a common goal.” 1

RED MOUNTAIN, RED WATERS When Gabriel Resources came to Rosia Montana in the late 1990s, its founders could not have imagined the resistance that their firm would face. After all, the town had been home to goldmining for two millennia. Roman gold miners had founded it in 106 A.D. They called their settlement Alburnus Maior and dug a serpentine complex of tunnels beneath the valley. Miles of their passageways remained, and archeologists had found a smattering of artifacts there including wax tablets, which recorded Roman laws. More extensive ruins, even greater in grandeur, had been destroyed in the 1970s to make way for communist-era mining.

The Romans had stayed for only about a century, but the industry that they’d started never left. Later came German gold diggers, and eventually, communism and the lumbering state-run mine. Even the name Rosia Montana, which means alpine red in English, seemed to trace its origin to the ore. Streams in the region ran red on account of the byproducts of mining that leached into them.

Gold gave Rosia Montana life, but it also brought premature death. Toxins in the water and ground, paired with poverty, left the town with a lower than average life expectancy, even by Romanian standards. Mining was tough, dangerous work, and miners around the world died young. Rosia Montana’s miners died younger than most—in their late forties—with some succumbing to silicosis, a lung disease caused by mine dust.

Even in modern times, mining in Rosia Montana was cruder than in many places. During communist Nicolae Ceausescu’s 24-year dictatorship, the local mine had fallen into a time warp. Its miners toiled with aging machinery and outdated technology. But their jobs were secure and wages high because the regime depended on their work. Theirs was one of the few Romanian industries that reliably produced something, besides arms, that foreigners wanted to buy.

“The state-owned mining companies directed their efforts primarily to increasing production, irrespective of costs and environmental consequences,” said a 1999 World Bank report on restructuring Romanian mining. “This resulted in a much larger mining sector than was economically justified, and extensive budgetary support was required. In 1989, when output reached its peak, there were 278 mines in operation. At that time, the mining sector provided a livelihood for almost 10 percent of the population.” 2

Since the transition to democracy, employment in mining had declined steadily. In the late 1980s, the country had employed about 350,000 miners. A decade later, that number had fallen by half. By 2005, after the closure of dozens of unprofitable mines to meet requirements for European Union (E.U.) membership, the tally had dropped to 50,000, and the closings were slated to continue. 3 Little mining towns like Rosia Montana, located at the dead-end of a rough mountain road, were slowly suffocating.

In much of Romania, manufacturing had replaced mining as the bulwark of the economy. Relatively low wages gave the country’s plants a comparative advantage, as did their proximityto the markets of Western Europe. Even so, mining endured. Big machines and thick-armed men still scraped minerals from the earth including coal, uranium, silver, copper, and borax. But gold managed to outshine them all, as the glittering metal had long done elsewhere. The deposits that lay below Rosia Montana were the largest remaining in Europe.

BROWN BEARS AND A BALKY ECONOMY Back in the communist era, Ceausescu had run the Romanian economy, as he’d run everything, as a personal fiefdom. 4 He had, for example, protected Europe’s largest remaining population of brown bears outside of Russia so that only he and his cronies could hunt them. He’d also pursued many ill-conceived economic schemes. In 1988, he announced plans to forcibly move people from about 8,000 rural villages into cities. He intended to put them to work in factories and raze their homes to make room for more cropland, though he didn’t carry out much of the plan before his ouster the following year. He also outlawed foreign debt and channeled an unsustainable share of his country’s production into industrial exports to generate foreign currency to pay off prior loans. He skimped on investment in agriculture, gutting a once-robust farming sector. He thus hobbled the country economically, leaving its people poor and its industries inefficient. According to the World Bank, the crippled economy was limping toward collapse when a firing squad executed the dictator and his wife, Elena, on Christmas Day in 1989.

Once Romanians had established a semblance of a free market, they struggled to slough off Ceausescu’s legacy. By just about every economic indicator, their country lagged the rest ofEurope. By 2005, about 14 percent of the people lived in poverty, with penury concentrated in the countryside. 5

As a way to accelerate economic growth and raise living standards, post-Ceausescu governments tried to encourage foreign direct investment, particularly in the mining sector. Officials imposed few restrictions on where and how foreigners could invest and gave foreign firms great latitude to operate within the country. Outside money gushed in starting, in the late 1990s. From 1995 through 2000, about $650 million a year in foreign direct investment arrived. In the new millennium, inflows shot up, reaching $2.2 billion in 2003, more than $6 billion in both 2004 and 2005, and then nearly doubling to $11.4 billion in 2006. Even so, Romania lagged its neighbor, Hungary, for most of that time. From 2003 through 2006, Hungary saw average inflows of $5.3billion a year. 6

Economic inefficiency was just one way in which the dead dictator haunted his countrymen. Ceausescu’s secret police force, the Securitate, and its large network of confidential informants—it had even recruited children—had left a nationwide legacy of distrust, which hampered public discourse. “During the Communist period, hundreds of thousands ofRomanians died in prison or labor camps,” the Financial Times reported. “By 1989, whenCeausescu was executed, most citizens trusted only close family members.” 7

Ceausescu’s demise, despite its dramatic finality, didn’t drive out his former allies and party functionaries. Ex-communists continued to play a large role in the country’s politics. The first president, Ion Iliescu, had served as a party official, as had many members of his coalition, the National Salvation Front. Some Romanians even speculated that Ceausescu’s overthrow amounted to little more than a coup d’etat, disguised as the sort of democratic reform that was then sweeping through the former Eastern Bloc.

Not everyone approved of the prevalence and rising power of Ceausescu’s former associates or of their initial reluctance to embrace reform. In the spring of 1990, pro-democracy protests erupted in Bucharest, with hundreds of people, mainly students, occupying University Square. Soon, thousands of miners from the Jiu Valley rumbled into the city. They bullied and beat protestors and bystanders and vandalized the homes of Iliescu’s opponents. They ransacked the offices of two opposition political parties and broke into university buildings, burning books and destroying classrooms and equipment. Six pro-democracy protestors died and hundreds of people ended up in Bucharest hospitals. In a speech, Iliescu later thanked the miners for quelling the protests, calling them a “strong force with much civic discipline, people you can trust in good times and bad.” 8 That led many Romanians to believe that he’d summoned them—a charge that he denied repeatedly. At the time, a top presidential adviser insisted that the workingmen had arrived unbidden. But, as The New York Times noted, “An essential question—one that [the adviser] said he could not answer—was how miners from the distant Jiu Valley gained precise information not only on the location of the opposition party headquarters, but of the private homes of its leaders, newspaper offices, and even the homes of gypsies.” 9

The following year, the miners showed that their fury trumped their allegiance to Iliescu. Again, a horde of them descended on Bucharest. This time, they were protesting proposed free-market reforms, including the beginnings of mine closures and layoffs, and calling for Iliescu’s ouster. Three people died in the clashes with police. Dozens were injured. Reform proposals notwithstanding, Iliescu’s government made little progress on weaning mines from public support or reducing employment in the bloated sector.

In 1996, Romanians turned Iliescu out of office, partly out of frustration with continued accusations of corruption against members of his government. That made room for a new president, Emil Constantinescu, a former university rector and low-level communist turned reformer. The following year, the government announced a plan to restructure the mining sector and encourage foreign investment in it. It began eliminating jobs and compensating the newly unemployed miners.

By 2000, economic reform continued to only creep along, and voters grew weary of Constantinescu and his party, the Democratic Convention of Romania. The election that year ushered in a return to power for Iliescu and a new prime minister named Adrian Nastase, a former professor of international law. According to the U.S. State Department, the Iliescu-Nastase government guided Romania toward greater economic stability, but corruption continued to stymie enduring reform. The restructuring of the mining sector stumbled along, with the government committed to it in theory but making little practical progress.

During this period, Transparency International, a nonprofit that lobbied worldwide for better governance, ranked Romania as among the European countries perceived as most corrupt by international businesspeople. The group’s 1998 survey, for example, put the country in 61 st place, well behind neighboring Hungary in 33 rd place and the nearby Czech Republic in 37 th place but just ahead of Bulgaria in 66 th place. 10 Five years later, Transparency International’ssurvey pushed Romania back to 83 rd place, while Hungary moved to 40 th place, and the Czech Republic and Bulgaria tied, with Brazil, for 54 th . 11

CANADIAN COMPANY, ROMANIAN ROOTS Gabriel Resources had arrived in Rosia Montana less than a decade after Ceausescu’s fall and even fewer years since the miners had stormed the capital. Though listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange, the company had been started by a Romanian national named Frank Timis. Timis had spent much of his adulthood in Australia, where he’d been convicted of possessing heroin and marijuana with intent to distribute. When he wasn’t tangling with the law, he ran a trucking company that ended up bankrupt. He’d also dabbled in gold mining.

Undeterred by his setbacks, Timis returned to his home country in the mid-1990s, with a proposal for a mine at Rosia Montana that would replace the old state-run operation. In 1998, the government of Prime Minister Radu Vasile awarded a contract to his company, Gabriel Resources. The government released neither the contract’s details nor its reasons for selecting Timis. Opponents of the mine subsequently claimed that he couldn’t have closed the deal without personal ties to the politicians who were then running the country, but neither media accounts nor an investigation by a later Gabriel Resources management team bore out that allegation. Given the prevalence of political corruption, some critics also suggested that Timis would’ve had to pay bribes to secure his contract, though no one proved that, either. Timis listed his company on the Vancouver Stock Exchange and, in 1997, transferred it to the Toronto Stock Exchange. 12

He began his Rosia Montana mine as a reclamation project, hoping to salvage gold in the waste that the inefficient state-run operation had left behind. After doing test drilling, he realized that tons of the precious metal remained. Indeed, estimates of the mine’s potential kept rising during the study phase. For several years, he quietly laid his plans until all the pieces were in place. By then, Romania-based Rosia Montana Gold Corp. had been formed, with Gabriel Resources owning 80 percent. Minvest S.A. Deva, the Romanian state mining company, owned 19.3 percent, and minority investors held the rest. The company didn’t identify the minority investors; U.S.-based Newmont Mining Corporation., one of the world’s largest gold producers, later bought a minority stake.

THE MINE PROPOSAL Timis’ plans grew larger as the extent of Rosia Montana’s gold reserves became clearer. According to the company’s ultimate estimate, the area contained reserves of 10.6 million ounces of gold, which would enable it to produce 635,000 ounces of ore a year at a cost of $181per ounce in the first 5 years of mining. The cost would rise above $200 an ounce in later years. In the mid-2000s, gold was selling for more than $500 an ounce, and its price had risen for much of the decade. Economic booms in China and India, as well as concerns about fiscal stability in the United States had driven its value upwards. Investors have tended to move into gold as a safe haven in times of financial instability.

Gabriel Resources predicted that upfront costs at Rosia Montana, including administration, village relocation, and construction, would total more than $600 million. By early 2007, the company had raised a total of $220 million in equity, exceeding its initial target by $70 million. It aimed to get about 20 percent of its funding from equity and the rest from debt. “The estimated internal rate of return of the project based on $500 per ounce gold would be 18 percent and the estimated return increases to 26 percent at $600 per ounce gold,” according to a company financial filing. 13

Gabriel Resources said that the mine would last at least 16 years and employ about 600 people. A professor at the University of Alberta in Canada wrote in the Mining Environmental Management trade journal that it would indirectly create about 1,500 to 2,000 additional jobs. 14 The company predicted even more. Construction of the mine would last 2 to 3 years and would employ about 1,200 people.

Mining would proceed in two stages, with two large pits dug in the first stage and two more in the second. Before work could begin, all of the villagers had to move and their homes had to be razed. The company would exhume and rebury the dead and reconstruct churches and civic buildings in the proposed new village. The plans hewed to involuntary relocation guidelines established by the World Bank, though all of Rosia Montana’s residents would have to leave voluntarily. Romanian officials had said that they wouldn’t force them to do so.

A controversial element of the plan was the mine’s waste pond, which would hold the cyanide-tainted water behind a 185 meter high dam. Before pumping the water into the reservoir, the company would detoxify it, which would destroy much of the cyanide. According to Gabriel Resources, the discharge would then contain less cyanide than E.U. guidelines allowed at other mines in Europe. As part of its proposal, Gabriel Resources also committed to clean up the extensive ground and water pollution left behind by prior miners. In the company’s absence, the Romanian government probably could not have afforded to do that, according to a report on the mine proposal by the Council of Europe.

Other miners had employed waste reservoirs like the one proposed by Gabriel Resources, and they hadn’t always worked as promised. Besides the long-term risk of acid seepage, a reservoir could fail catastrophically. In 2000, the collapse of a dam holding back a waste pond in the Romanian town of Baia Mare wreaked havoc in Romania and downriver in neighboring Hungary. An Australian-Romanian venture, Aurul SA, had operated the mine at Baia Mare using methods similar to those proposed for Rosia Montana. After a period of heavy rain and snowmelt, its containment dam had collapsed. Millions of gallons of cyanide-tainted water had flowed first into the Tisza River on the Romanian-Hungarian border and, from there, into the Danube in Hungary. The spill killed more than 100 tons of fish and contaminated wells along both rivers. Cyanide decomposes rapidly when exposed to sun and air, but heavy metals released by the spill would remain in the rivers for years. In response, the Hungarian government sued its Romanian counterpart for more than $100 million in damages. Gabriel Resources said that its sturdier system of a main dam and a backup, coupled with the detoxification process, would make its operations safer than the ones at Baia Mare.

Early on, some politicians in Bucharest had expressed support for Gabriel Resources’ plans and tried to help them along. In 1999, the government, for example, declared Rosia Montana a disadvantaged region and made the mine eligible for 10 years’ worth of tax abatements under a program designed to encourage foreign investment. (The government provided similar tax incentives in disadvantaged communities throughout the country.) At that time, Radu Berceanu, the minister of industry, and Traian Basescu, the minister of transport, favored the redevelopment plans for the mine. Basescu, a former ship’s captain, later became the country’s president.

CLOSED DOORS Four hundred kilometers from Bucharest, on the other side of the steep slopes of the Carpathian Mountains, little was known of the elaborate plans that Gabriel Resources was laying. Timis and his staff had mostly ignored the Rosia Montana villagers, focusing their efforts on the capital, where they had maneuvered to quietly gather political support and regulatory approvals before going public. This strategy, which a future Gabriel executive called, “Decide, Announce, Defend,” or DAD for short, was typical of the way miners and oil drillers operated in the developing world.

Gabriel Resources began to relax its stealth in 2000 when company executives traveled to Rosia Montana to convene a meeting with local officials to share the plans for reviving the mine. The gathering was held in the town hall. Villagers heard about it, showed up, and asked to be admitted, but company officials turned them away. Only later did one of the attendees explain the outlines of the discussion: an outside investor who’d taken over the old state mine wanted to bulldoze their town to make way for an enlarged operation.

Initially, Rosia Montana’s mayor opposed the plan and even ran for re-election saying that he’d block it. Soon, though, his stance changed: “I am in a delicate position,” he told the AssociatedPress. “[Rosia Montana] Gold Corp. has paid their taxes and sponsored some projects.” 15 As mayor, he said that he had to represent the opinion of the majority of the community, and many of the town’s residents—unemployed miners and their kin—favored the project.

Other villagers were alarmed by Gabriel Resources’ plan and began to grumble about the mayor’s turnabout. That September, they decided to form an association to fight to protect their homes. They named their group Alburnus Maior to recall the region’s long history and archeological significance. “It is an association of property owners, not environmentalists,” said Eugen David, a tall farmer and one of the group’s leaders. “We have only one principle: each person is a free person, free to make decisions about his life and property. We need publicity, but our strongest resource is ownership of property. What is common is we are here and don’t want to leave.” 16

The proposal that Gabriel Resources’ executives had assumed would sail through the approval processes now faced a challenge. How the company responded would affect not only the speed with which it could secure the dozens of permits that it needed but also how it would be viewed in both Rosia Montana and Bucharest. The company’s plans, which touched on relocation, mining, and insider deals, managed to conjure up memories of the Ceausescu era and the tumult of the early days of the democratic transition.

“Gold for us is a curse,” said Zeno Cornea, a member of Alburnus Maior. “Gold here in Rosia Montana has caused suffering for the people since ancient times. There’s always someone coming to take it.” 17

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS 1. Did the Rosia Montana mine have sufficient political, economic, and social support? Locally? Nationally? Which sort of support was most critical to the project’s success?

2. Given the political, economic, and social environment in Romania in the mid-1990s, which elements of Gabriel Resources’ strategy made sense? Which ones could have been improved? What, if anything, did the executives neglect?

3. What might opponents have done to raise the profile of their concerns, and slow or stop the mine’s redevelopment?

References:

1 Interview with Professor Witold Henisz and Sinziana Dorobantu in Romania.

2 The World Bank, “Project Appraisal Document,” August 6, 1999, p. 2.

3 The World Bank, “Poverty and Social Impact Analysis of the Mining Sector in Romania: A Policy Note,” June 29,2005, p. 4, http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTPSIA/Resources/490023-1120841262639/Romania_PSIA_Mining.pdf.

4 The communist era in Romania refers to the period between 1947 and 1989 when Romania was a dictatorship in the Eastern Bloc led by the Romanian Communist Party, the sole legal party; “Communist Romania,” Wikipedia,http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communist_Romania (May 9, 2009).

5 The World Bank, loc. cit.

6 United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, “World Investment Report 2007, Romania Fact Sheet,”October 17, 2007.

7 Phelim McAleer, “Most Multinationals Promise to Listen to Local Concerns,” The Financial Times, March 9,2001.

8 Celestine Bohlen, “Altered States: Free Choice Revives the Best and Worst of Eastern Europe,” The New YorkTimes, June 17, 1990.

9 Celestine Bohlen, “A Backlash in Romania; In Calling Out Miners to Stifle Opposition, President Forfeits Control and Good Will,” The New York Times, June 18, 1990.

10 Transparency International, “The Corruption Perceptions Index (1998),” September 22, 1998, http://www.transparency.org/policy_research/surveys_indices/cpi/previous_cpi__1/1998 (May 22, 2009).

11 Transparency International, “Corruption Perceptions Index 2003,” October 7, 2008, http://www.transparency.org/policy_research/surveys_indices/cpi/2003 (May 22, 2009).

12 Stefan Candea, Crji.org, “Romania’s Gold, in an Adventurer’s Hands,” May 22, 2002,http://www.crji.org/news.php?id=29&l=2.

13 Gabriel Resources Ltd., “2006 Annual Report”, p. 22.

14 Jeremy Richard, “Rosia Montana Gold Controversy,” Mining Environmental Management, January 2005, pp. 5-13.

15 Alison Mutler, Associated Press, “Transylvanian Town Atop Gold Mine,” June 24, 2001.

16 Henisz and Dorobantu, loc. cit.

17 Ibid.

 

 

Rosia Montana: The War for Gold is Killing People

The original article may be found here.

Rosia Montana: The war for gold is killing people
by RCW Tuesday, Jul. 13, 2004 at 11:20 AM

The Mining Company S.C. „R.M. Gold Corporation” offered the amount of 840,000,000 lei to the family physician Florin Georgescu, so that he would leave Rosia Montana . For a year, the largest commune in Romania was left without medical assistance. Many of the local inhabitants claim that doctor Georgescu was paid to leave, because he held certain medical files of patients who had died, or became gravely ill, because of the powerful psychological pressures they were subjected to, for several years, by the mercenaries of the Company. The war for gold has begun to kill people. Original article at: http://www.formula-as.ro/ Translation courtesy of T.L. Complementary infos: http://www.rosiamontana.org

The grinding of the mountain

“They started drilling in Rosia Montana!…” It is Friday, April 22nd , and the news are spreading quickly, by word of mouth. From everywhere, from their courtyards, people are listening to the grinding of the mountain.
Where can this be? They hear it constantly, day and night, its whizzing noise is measuring time, it is measuring their lives, they almost breathe in the same rhythm as the auger. Some locals confess that they are using earplugs during the night, to avoid hearing the noise. To no avail! It is a whizzing noise of an extraordinary intensity, a painful, elongated penetration. People are suffering. The mountains of the “Motzi ” are being riddled, are being hurt, and they, the people, are suffering together with the mountains.
It is completely forbidden to execute drilling in Rosia Montana. According to the new Law of the Environment,
such drillings cannot be undertaken, without prior consultations with the local population, and the majority of the locals have said “NO”. A week before we arrived here, the “Goldists ” received a written notification from the Ministry of the Environment , which stated that the environmental permit for drilling was denied, for at least a month. Only a few days after this decision, the Company started drilling again. To Canadian investors, Romanian laws are worthless.
When they demanded explanations, the locals were told that proceedings were being initiated, and that the approval of the environmental permit was “pending”. “Well, but so far, you don’t have a permit. This is illegal!”, the locals protested. The “Goldists” pat them on their shoulders, smiling as they always do, and said: “Don’t you worry! It is pending…”

The first who discovered the drilling auger is Francisc David, descendant of an old family of goldsmiths. At noon, he usually watches his mountain from the front yard of his secular home. The “Carnic”, the mountain full of gold, the mountain where his ancestors owned mine openings and stone-crushing machines, properties which belong to him lawfully, for which he has ownership papers. And yet, he cannot touch those properties, because of the newcomers who claimed ownership on the riches of the “Apuseni” Mountains.
A day before yesterday, at noon, he was standing against a blossomed apple tree, letting the spring sun caress his beautiful face, the face of a poet of the remoteness, who was minding his own thoughts. All of a sudden… he saw it! His sharp sight of experienced miner was right: a red, narrow stripe, on the rock wall, right above the spire of the Catholic Church. Francisc David stood up, his palm above his eyes: yes, they were digging in his mines! And right at that moment, he saw with the corner of his eye the two robust fellows on the hill behind the house, how they held their mobile phones to their ears. By the time he ran to the house, to spread the news, the drilling auger had stopped. Only then did he realize that those two sun-tanned fellows who were pretending to be sunbathing for the past few days, up on the meadow, were assigned to supervise him. Now, I see them also. Two sturdy men with sunglasses, wearing coloured T-shirts – one of them is talking again on his mobile phone. “They are afraid of me, because they know I am the owner up there! You’ll see, now that they noticed you interviewing me with the voice recorder, in less than ten minutes, they’ll stop the drilling. Just wait and see…” Indeed, in precisely five minutes, the gnashing noise of drilled rock ended and the village breathed easily.

Francisc David, together with other locals from Rosia whom I would later speak to, believes that this drilling is the most terrible “tool for psychological murder” that ever existed. “They keep pestering us constantly, non-stop, including Saturdays and Sundays. Why are these people drilling, over and over, in the same places? I am an experienced miner, I know. I also spoke with specialists – these guys do not drill to gather samples, because prospecting is done after an organized net, with holes far apart. Some say that, in fact, they are extracting gold. They have our old maps, received for free from Gruber, the former director at the State Mine, and they drill exactly where they know that the large gold vein deposits are located. A friend, the topographer Eugen Cornea, saw up on the platform, three drillings within five metres – this is impossible! When he came back, accompanied by us, the holes had been covered by an excavator.“ Anyways, regardless whether they are extracting gold or not, they know that we are losing our minds if we keep hearing, day and night, these augers drilling with lawlessness in our ancient mountains. They keep hammering! Always! Sometimes, I think they are using them just so that we understand that they are busy, to keep us worried and upset, to show us they are here, beside us, and in the end, they will finish us all. I think we, from Rosia Montana, will be hearing the drilling augers after we pass on, into the other world, into the grave…”

The killing words

Francisc David tells me directly, without fear, that two cousins of him died because of the pressures made by the Company. “The first was a cousin from my father’s side, David Ioan, who lived down, at the mine, at Razna. He was a teacher, here in Rosia, and an intelligent and active person, always full of life. This, until the “Gold Company ” came. He owned, from his ancestors, many properties, just as I do, and all his life, he dreamed of getting back his stone-crushing machines and his mine entrances. He wanted that, more than anything in this world. When the ‘Goldists’ came, they started pestering him: to sell his home, because he would not get anything back. They kept postponing answering to his demands. He got upset. As days went by, he became more and more uncommunicative, more grumpy, he was looking at people, afraid, while walking on the street.”

He kept coming to me, crying and asking: “Francisc, what is going on with me?” He did not believe that properties would be restituted.
We used to chat often, and I kept telling him: “Ioane, why don’t you believe it, since you own the properties, once it’s written ‘PRO-PER-TY’ on the paper? Isn’t it enough how much our ancestors suffered, when communists took them in ’48 ? Hasn’t the Judge restituted them once? Now, Law 10 of 2000 states clearly that those properties would be restituted! Law is law! Don’t you remember the times, when we used to chase away the mine thieves, using our property documents and the police? Don’t you remember? This is what we’ll do with these thieves…” He became more and more sad. He kept saying that in Romania, law is not law anymore, but terrorist communism. He was intelligent. He kept agonizing like that, until his heart failed, and he died during his second open-heart surgery.
The second cousin was Ciura Ion, again a cousin from my father. He used to live here, up the street, towards Tarina. He was 59 years old; he was kind to everybody, helpful, a man of rare intelligence. He used to write poems, mostly about his village. They saw him as delicate and frail, and they kept terrorizing him. They used to bring publications of the Company to his door, they kept coming and telling him to sell, sell, sell… Everyday, they used to stand in front of his door, shouting: “Don’t you see that all your neighbours have left? What, are you planning to stay here alone? You will remain alone here, and you won’t be able to sell your house for a good price!” They kept visiting his house, constantly. I used to visit him, every evening, since I knew who kept coming there to see him. I kept telling them: “Folks, leave this man alone, God is watching you from above!” While I was there with him, they left him alone, and after I had left, they would come again. Until they sent him into the grave. I never believed that spoken words could kill. They killed him with words, with their pressures. He kept saying: “Francisc, I cannot resist any longer…“ He died of a heart attack, one night last winter. It was four in the morning, big snow; somebody came to me, so I got dressed and went there. I could see light through the window, and someone said he had heard somebody there […]. They had entered his house that night, after he died, and they set all his writings on fire. He was lying dead on the bed, and they were searching through his things. When I entered the house, the drawers were wide open, and papers were still burning in the fireplace. So that they would destroy all evidence! Through the Will of God, a single sheet of paper was saved. I noticed it in the house, on the floor. It was the last poem of Ciura Ioan, written before his death.

Francisc David pulls out of the stack of useless, old property documents, a sheet of paper kept with pious feelings, which he slowly unfolds, in front of his blue eyes.

The poem is called “Here”. Below are a few verses (…):

“Here, graves are being bought / And billions flow in streams / Over homes and holy places / Over all, the land below us / Those who buy graves / Might be upset by us / But we want them to know / We will not leave from here / Here and not somewhere else / We will build a new destiny / And we shall fight until death / Because this is where we want to live.”

With a device in her chest

Francisc David hasn’t climbed the road to the mountain of Tarina since then. He didn’t go to the Requiem religious ceremony either, because he didn’t want to meet the neighbours who “killed with words” his cousin Ciura, the poet. He doesn’t want to accompany me now, either. I climb instead of him, as if I wished to bring him news, from a few houses away. Not much has changed in Rosia since the last time I was here. Perhaps more strain and more silence, less peasants and more cars – a lot of cars, the kinds of cars that not even the Members of Parliament own, according to Francisc David. A procession of expensive automobiles that roll slowly, all day long, playing loud music from behind lowered side windows, driven by young men wearing gold jewellery, who are shouting towards the locals’ houses. You see them on the highest roads, climbing narrow streets, ignoring the potholes and the rocks, just to be seen, oblivious to the potential damage to their cars. All they can do is drive, all day long.
The small white house of the poet Ciura has been sold shortly after his death, and it will soon bear the blue plate, or “the cursed plate”, with the inscription “Property of RMGC ”. This is the sign of an epidemic.

Across the road, there is another yellow house, looking like in the fairy tales. Somebody still lives there, but now, nobody would open the door, no matter how long you knock. The home is inhabited by Maria Petruta, a 56 years old opponent of “the Gold”, and who has been managing her entire life, the food store of the former Cooperative in the Rosia market. The day the Company closed her store, at the moment when she exited its door for the last time, the woman suffered a stroke. Since then, her entire body is paralized, and she cannot speak. Her mother visits her from time to time, to change her bed sheets and to feed her. Maria Petrutia will never again be an undesired witness for the Company…
Up close to the end of the unpaved street, there are a few large houses, close to each other; among them, two very tall twin houses that can be seen from anywhere in Rosia Montana. Has the Company been able to purchase them, as well? Forester Stefan Cosma is sitting at a table in the empty courtyard, facing his wife. It is evening, and, from deep within the ground, you can hear again the quick, obsessive pulsations of the drilling auger. The pair looks at each other, quietly. Between them lie on the table a Bible and a jug of fresh milk. I sit down and share with them the secret – the place where the tyrannical device is located on the mountain. “A, so there it was…” Then, I ask them about the news in Rosia. “Can’t you hear this?” – the man says, pointing towards the mountains. “This cursed drilling device is the news here.” The woman is still quiet, staring at the ground. Her face is darkened, with little red veins crossing her prominent cheekbones, and her eyes are filled by an eternal sadeness. I find out that she is ill, very ill, and that her suffering comes from “the stress with the Company”.
I can hardly persuade her to talk – only when I mention her two sons, Razvan and Ciprian, who now work at the State Mine, and who are constantly being threatened with lay-offs in case their parents wouldn’t sell their properties. Her dear sons, who worked hard to build themselves the twin houses, but who cannot complete them and move there, because today, in Rosia Montana, building doesn’t make sense.
“Until the year of 1999”, says Rodica Cosma, “when the Company attacked me, I never knew sickness. I was never interned in a hospital, I never suffered. I was living well here, I used to get along well with everybody, I walked to the market, I met people, and we used to greet each other. We worked hard and we built these old houses, then we built for our children too, since they wanted to settle here, to be close to us, to be all together in the family.” They had the desire to own their houses… We sold the animals we had, and when they had the necessary money, they told me: “Mom, we will never touch this money, not even for a juice…” That is what they did. Many times, they passed by the market, without indulging to buy fruits.

They worked by themselves, without help, and when they raised their houses, the people from “Gold” came, and everything was finished.”
Only now do I notice, that the two tall houses with balconies, terraces and many rooms, are unfinished – through the windows, I can see scaffolding and grey debris. “The houses have been like this for four years, no work has been done since”, says her husband from across the table. “Should we sell them, they would pay us very little. Our sons stay in Abrud, and here is “industrial zone”, you are not alowed to build anything at all. Even if you hammer a nail, you think it’s all for nothing.” A neighbour by the name of Barla enters the courtyard. He asks: “Did you plant the potatoes?” The pair suddenly begins to cry. First I look at them, and then I understand. Of course they planted the potatoes, but they do not know if they will ever get to pick them. They both remember that there were locals who had left in August, and they were never allowed to enter their gardens later, to pick the crop. “This is why I became ill”, the woman bursts in tears.

I worked at the town hall, I saw everything that’s going on there, and I witnessed all the departures from Rosia Montana! I was working at “Revenues and Taxes” – in order to sell your home, one has to obtain proof from the town hall that all taxes have been paid. I used to talk to various people. Some would say: “We are not leaving! Why should we leave? Where should we go?…” And later, you would see them coming to pay their taxes, and off they went. It is not easy to witness all this. I could not sleep at night, I felt I was choking, I was only thinking about how they would blast our houses away. You should know that, for a person who has been living here during his entire life, the thought that a neighbour is leaving, or that himself could be forced to leave, is difficult. This is why I became ill. When, in 1999, the Doctor from Cimpeni told me that I am gravely ill and must be interned in a large hospital, I thought everything was over. They discovered there that a heart valve is not working anymore, at all, and that the sickness has extended down, towards the lungs. I have undergone two surgeries, and I am living with a device in my chest. The Doctor asked me then: “Have you had, recently, any serious trouble?” What should I say? That these troubles are sending us all into the grave?”

Victims and traitors

Next day is Saturday, April 23rd. I start from the bottom of the settlement, from Gura Baii, and I climb up to Taul Brazilor, close to Varful Ghergheleu, knocking on doors, listening to the stories of other locals from Rosia Montana.

Early morning, somewhere close to the Gallery of the Holy Cross of Maria Tereza, in a house with one metre thick walls and a broad verandah, I chat with an old lady, Zamfira Delian. She is living together with her son, Petru, whose lungs are gravely ill, and everyday, both have to face the handsome house at the end of their courtyard. The house marked with the blue plate, is where Selagea Eugenia lived – the best neighbour in the world. This woman died six months after leaving Rosia Montana.
While she is speaking, Zamfira Delian keeps looking at the beautiful building, its second floor surrounded by a red girdle. “She died because of the stress and worries. She was a young woman, not like me. She didn’t want to leave, but her children kept pressing her to sell, and to move at their place, in Cugir. They needed money, because the local factory is also bankrupt, so they kept visiting her: ‘Mom, come to our place. Come!’ They didn’t understand her. Before she died, she came twice to Rosia. I saw her then – she was disappointed, and very upset. Once she went to the cemetery, to visit her mother’s grave. She laid her head on the grave, crying and asking her for forgiveness. Then she came back and, a few days later, in the block of apartments, she closed her eyes and died.” Zamfira’s son is holding his palms against his chest; he can hardly speak because of the cough convulsions, and his words sound whining, tormented, coming out of a profound pain: “Do you know why Selagea Eugenia died? Because she couldn’t live in a different environment. I am sick. I am alive now, only because I am staying here. If you take me away from these mountains for a few weeks, I will die.” Wherever we would go, we could not adapt to a different lifestyle. We would die! Of the people who left from here, many have died. There we have no neighbours, nobody. Everybody from Rosia Montana, who leaves this settlement, is seen elsewhere as a traitor. You know what they are saying? “The highlanders came with money, to buy our lands!” That’s what they say. Many locals from Rosia come back, and cannot believe the houses do not belong to them anymore. They stand by their houses, and they cry. Many feel ashamed. One of them, Jurj Remus, who now lives in Abrud, gathered all his neighbours in front of his house bearing the blue plate, and told them: “Nobody should ever do what I did, as long as you live!” The old lady, Zamfira, sighs and tells me that not even for a few billions , “not for all the money in the world”, would she consider leaving this place.
The neighbour across the street, Nicolae Vadan, called “nea’ Lae”, takes me through the barns and the stables with cattle, through every room of his big, two-storey house, and after opening every gate and every door, says “Here, have a look…” and keeps bursting into tears. His face is red, and he cannot get rid of the angry grimace […] – I feel sorry for him. He has been suffering for three years, of stress-related diabetes, which he says he developed due to the pressures from the Company. Until then, he was never ill. Here is his testimony: “They are always here. They enter my courtyard, they enter my house. Yesterday, a kid from ‘Gold’ came, asking for permission to survey the land. I got angry with them, I told them to get out, but they keep coming. ‘May we talk?…’ They always begin that way. I tell them: ‘Not a chance!’, but they keep coming.Again and again! They keep stirring you up, they say that one neighbour doesn’t like me, that another one doesn’t greet me on the street. They are very insolent!’”
Our daughter is living with us, and because we didn’t want to sell our house, they laid her off, from the mining operations. What can I tell you, I go to bed, and I wake up, with these thoughts. When you think you’re happy, then these devils come to our homes. Nicolae Vadan is crying, and his wife says that until four years ago, he never cried – he used to be a strong man, and nothing was against him.
‘Nea’ Lae’ stands up, takes me by the arm and almost forces me to walk to the fence, to see the neighbouring house. An old little home, on the side of the hill, at the end of a […] courtyard.

“Look! They paid one billion, two hundred for this house . Then, they shoot films and broadcast them, to demonstrate how generous they are. Stan Ana, the woman who lived here, moved to Barabanti, close to Alba, and couldn’t live there. Now she wants to move back, closer, at least as far as Abrud. But, as derelict as the old house was, they damaged it after the woman left. They shattered windows, they created disorder in the courtyard, they threw garbage in there – they do that everywhere. You know why they do that? To make others leave, too. So that everything is left looking sinister, so that you are disgusted and horrified when you walk on the street. When you have no neighbours and you see around you all these deserted courtyards, full of garbage, your body is shaking, and you feel like leaving. They are well trained, they know how to play us on their fingers. They are surrounding us. When they see that somebody holds his ground and doesn’t want to sell, they try to corrupt, slowly, those who surround him, and to leave us alone, among ruins.”

Dead nature, with people from Rosia Montana

By noon, the drilling auger is working again. I almost got used to its “beats”. I am getting deeper and deeper into the heart of Rosia. I meet Aurelia Tomus, a woman with a perplexed face, always astonished, always puzzled, who cannot comprehend why the village degraded so much – the village where they all lived, until recently, “like in a park, like in Heaven”. Why parents and children and brothers do not get along anymore, why her neighbour keeps calling her crazy every day, because she doesn’t want to sell her house and land.
Upper and closer to the street, in front of a long and very white two-storey house, is sitting Nicolae Badau , Professor of History. He used to find stones with inscriptions from Roman times, every step of the way. He even found them between the furrows of his cultivated land, while ploughing it. Tens of years ago, he left to Cluj, where he had been assigned to teach. But, he cannot live without his white house from Rosia Montana. Here, I witness another surprise: “Why isn’t somebody trying to convince these people, that they have to claim moral damages? Alienation, and the fact that they stress you out like this, is a serious moral damage. People are frail, people don’t know. I told them so many times: ‘You should know that in EU , moral damages often exceed material damages! Why don’t you understand that if we join the EU, the prices of your homes would rise by almost ten times? ’ ”
Here I am, at last, in the great market. The superb market, now in ruins, bordered by houses, which are considered historical monuments, whose windows are now filled by weeds grown on the frames. But who doesn’t know the market of Rosia Montana, filmed for so many times? The locals are standing still under the spring sun, close to the walls of the homes. Most of them are looking at the sky. From the air, from the bowels of Earth, the auger is drilling again, its beat synchronized with people’s thoughts, with the blinking of their eyelids. Nobody enters anywhere, nobody exits from anywhere, and nobody talks to anybody. During the two days of my stay here, I haven’t heard “Good day” or “We praise the Lord”.

It is like a huge dumbshow, with speechless peasants in black clothes, their shadows against shrivelled and secular walls. Somebody makes a sign with two fingers, asking for a cigarette. Someone else nods his head in confirmation. The first goes and helps himself, lighting the cigarette. Then he goes back and leans against his wall, staring again at the same sky.
Aside from their houses in the mountains, these people have nowhere to go. The bowling room is closed, the beautiful summer garden is closed, and the beautiful vacation homes are closed, next to the deep blue lakes, on the top of the mountains. People do not meet other people anymore.
The stores where children would ask for candy and a beer on credit for daddy, are closed. Closed are also the buffets that hosted parties. The innkeepers and merchants have “sold their business”, just like Doctor Georgescu (despite the fact that he did not have a private practice, and that he was being remunerated and had been assigned there by the Ministry of Health). Boia Valentin closed his inn, Ludmila Lupu sold her grocery store business for eight hundred million . The mair Virgil Narita, working for “the Goldists”, sold his business too, rumours say for nine billion . However, his store downtown, at “Gura Baii”, is still open. The reason? They only payed him half the money. The only store open in the Rosia market belongs to a very young man, by the name of Jurca Sorin, and is better stocked than all the small shops in the Capital. By not selling his store, this young man is, in fact, helping the people from Rosia to stay. One time, a neighbour from here, from the market, said: “Should there not be bread, I would leave. Why should I walk in winter to Cimpeni, to buy bread? ” Then, the young man told the locals: “As long as I live, there will be bread here.” Sorin Jurca is refusing to talk to me. Rumours say that he is also under pressure, from Financial Control, and who knows what else? People say his mother told him: “Instead of seeing the car coming at my gate and loading my things, I would rather die!” And that is what she did: she died from the pressures of the Company.

Whoever leaves, pays with money for his own death

The Patriot

Up on the winding streets below Taul Brazilor, a thirty-year old man lives; his hair is completely white. He watches the toes of his shoes, walking aimlessly as he keeps turning in front of his tall house, and he keeps postponing to enter the house.
He thinks a lot while he walks.It is easy to begin a conversation with him, and it seems like he is expecting guests – by inviting them into his house, he would have an oportunity to enter his house again. This young man with grey-white hair has a beautiful wife and three little kids, who are being threatened that soon, they would not have a school anymore. He also has a father, who lives in a tiny house in his courtyard. His father has paralised because of his anger caused by the destruction of the settlement. He, Botar Valentin, is caught in the middle. He loves his village, he says. “Otherwise, I would not have laboured so many years carrying large and heavy stones on my back, to build this house.” He loves his home, he wouldn’t sell it and he wouldn’t leave. His wife is also very attached to Rosia, but she told him: “When the school will close, I will take the kids and leave. I won’t stay here with you for a moment.” And he knows that, should he leave the village together with his wife, his father would die. In the house, the three kids are playing “hide and seek” through the many rooms. Not long ago, the older son brought news from the village: “The teacher told us we should find another school, in another village, before autumn comes.” And since then, the wife of the young man with grey-white hair keeps thinking about leaving. She is now cooking – it is late Saturday, and three guests from Rosia arrive. With them as only witnesses, the young man – Valentin – dares to share his thoughts: “My father is a patriot. I have to admit he is a greater patriot than I am…” He keeps telling us passionately about his paralised father, who read “three libraries’ worth of historical books” about Iancu, Horea and all the other national heroes, who died long time ago.

The neighbours tell other stories, about more recent heroes, who died in the war for the “Apuseni” Mountains. Stories about Dragoi Floarea, who had moved to Berghint, and who was being kept locked at home by her children, so that she wouldn’t escape and return back to Rosia Montana. She managed to escape three times, and went back to the house in the mountains, sold by her children. Six months later, when they installed iron latices on her windows, the woman decided to die. Stories about Botar Olga, who used to come from Abrud and slept in the pigs’ barn of her former house, which had been sold by her son. She used to get out of the barn early in the morning, wash herself and then sit on the little bench in front of the locked house, greeting passers-by, behaving as if nothing had happened, pretending she still owned the place. Suddenly, one of the guests interrupts these stories with a shocking statement: “Those who are leaving Rosia Montana, will be buying their own death, with money!” Valentin, the host, uses the opportunity to take me to the little house in his courtyard, where his father, Botar Ioan, lives. A sixty-six year old man lies on a green bed in a narrow room, full of religious icons, his eyes always wide open. He talks with great difficulty, and he only answers when his son shouts loudly into his ear. On Christmas Day, he came home feeling sad, he ate a little and went to rest. He woke up with great pains and was never able to rise from the bed again. The whole left side of his body, from head to toes, is paralysed. “I was shocked. I didn’t like what I had heard in the village, about this thing with the ‘Gold’. They are rascals and cowards! I was never ill. I was in despair, that the village would be destroyed. Rosia must live on for centuries to come!” He stares at me with his eyes wide open, that never blink. He hardly manages to speak out words, between long breaks. Meanwhile, his son tells me that this man who is paralysed, used to be one of the best dancers around here, that he would “dance on the table full with glasses”, that he used to scour everyday the beautiful mountains surrounding us.
When I ask for permission to take his picture, Ioan Botar says he wants to appear “dressed up”. His son sighs, as he knows the story. With great difficulty, he raises his father and it takes almost half an hour to dress him in military attire, kept in impeccable condition. The old man keeps shouting, “there has to be an authority here in Rosia!” Then, his son lays a sword on his lap. An old sword, from the times of Iancu , which he received as a gift from one of his old neighbours, and which he kept cleaning and preserving for decades. On his head, the son lays a German helmet, “model 36″. It belonged to an old friend, who had died in the war. I watch him as I compose the picture, standing dressed and trying to look dignified in the old chair – the last defender of Rosia! I take the picture, my tears falling from my eyes.

Mercy for Adela

Final destination: Szekey Adela. As the last descendant of old family of goldsmiths, she is the only one, perhaps, who inspires mercy, both from the locals who chose to stay, and from the “Goldists”. A picture taken last year by French journalists, in the cemetery of the Church, on the morning of the Holy Resurrection, was unanimously called “The Emblem of Suffering in Rosia Montana”. She is also the only one old lady, who has kind words for the people of the Company. Following a mess in ownership documents, her house ended up in her daughter’s name. Tens of years later, the daughter sold the house, without asking for her mother’s permission. In dispair, realising that nothing can be changed now, the old lady went to see Director Dumitrascu and implored him on her knees, crying, to allow her to stay a little longer. Only for a few months. He could not resist and allowed her to stay for six months, and he even agreed to not install the blue plate on the house. She had to submit a written request, and obtain a medical certificate from Rosia Montana. He finally allowed her to stay. This gesture was seen as a wonder, by the rest of the villagers, who had been evicted immediately after receiving their money. However, the deadline for departure is approaching soon, even for Adela Szekey. Every day, she stays in the little basement room, sewing local folklore costumes, and crying. She is sewing costumes for free, for all the villagers who chose to stay. She has open wounds around the eyes, from so much crying. The salt from the tears left scars on the skin of her eyelids and temples. After scratching her skin, the scars extended towards her forehead and doctors had to operate her with a skin transplant to her face.
What a difference between now and the picture from a year ago, in the morning of the Holy Resurrection.

Eighty-four years of age, this woman is still sane, with a clear mind, she hears and speaks well, but her face wears a stigma and her voice is tragic. No smiles on her face, her voice sounds apocalyptic. “I destroyed myself with these thoughts about having to leave! Within a year, I became really old. People were surprised, because I used to be healthy and cheerful and hardworking, but now I feel insane and afraid. I am terrified of leaving. I am afraid, my days are numbered. I would not have left at all. First, I screamed in pain: I’d rather set the house on fire, and burn inside it! Nobody knows how much I suffered to build this house! Afterwards, after many requests from my children, after many quarrels between my daughter and her husband, I started to think about it. I told my children I would give them the house, which is everything I own. All my life, I worked to feed my two children and to build this ‘nest’, together with my husband. You’ll get the house, just be patient, until I die. Please, let me stay here until I die! ” The children wouldn’t agree, because they needed money. They finally sold the house, without her approval. Says Adela: “I would have to leave. But even if I should die in a foreign place, I wish to be buried here, beside my husband, beside my church. Here, where I belong…”

For almost six months, Adela Szekey did not even go to see the little house her daughter bought at Ocna Mures. She wasn’t interested. They told her the house is close to their large, renovated home […], but she wasn’t interested. She stood here, in a house that doesn’t belong to her anymore. Every Sunday, she walks nine kilometres to the church, she talks to her old friends, takes a walk in the mountains, on the winding, narrow, unpaved streets, through the market, minding her own affairs. We enter the beautiful home she no longer owns. She shows me pictures of her daughter, Adela, from times long ago, when she was childish and suave, together with her beloved husband, together with her parents, the goldsmiths. Portraits in black-and-white, of a descent of locals from Rosia, who are perishing. Against the noisy background of the drilling auger, the old lady accompanies me to the gate. She tells me that, no matter what, she won’t give up. She tells me that, with her daughter’s approval, she will go again to the “Goldists” in two weeks’ time, she will obtain another medical certificate, and, if need be, she will implore them again, on her knees, to spare her. She will not give up, that’s for sure. She will never give up.

BOGDAN LUPESCU