Economy

Gold Rush Standoff In Tiny Romanian Village As Canadian Company Eyes Billions

With the price of gold climbing throughout the financial crisis, a Canadian group grows more eager to mine a huge quantity of gold discovered in the Romanian village of Rosia Montana in the region of Transylvania. But local opponents refuse to given up th

A quarter of picturesque Rosia Montana risks being stripped away. (AndreDea)
A quarter of picturesque Rosia Montana risks being stripped away. (AndreDea)
Mirel Bran

ROSIA MONTANA - A small fox agonizing in the middle of the road after being hit by a car takes one last look at the hustle and bustle that has taken over the area and its heavenly landscapes.

The constant flow of cars at 6 a.m. on a Sunday is a sign of the intense activity in the "golden quadrilateral." That's the name of the 500-square-meter area, located in Transylvania in western Romania, where precious metals are hidden in the lower depths of small mountains.

The explosion of the price of gold in the context of the current financial crisis has a visible impact on this Carpathian Eldorado. In the small village of Rosia Montana, the Canadian firm Gabriel Resources, which is listed on the Toronto Stock exchange, has discovered Europe's biggest gold deposit.

"Over the next 16 years, we will extract every year quantities of gold and silver that will exceed the production of all European Union members," says Catalin Hosu, a representative for the Rosia Montana Gold Corporation (RMGC). "We're banking on about 314 tons of gold and 1,480 tons of silver."

But this Carpathian gold rush isn't pleasing everyone in Rosia Montana. Part of the village will be torn down to allow extraction. The Alburnus Maior association, which brings together opponents of the Canadian project, has declared open war on the RMGC.

Eugen Cornea, a retired minor and one of the project's staunchest opponents, lives in a small house on an upper stretch of the village. "I will never leave my house and the land where my ancestors are buried," he says, his voice edged with emotion. "Our fight against the company is like the one between David and Goliath. David won, and so will we."

The conflict between the farmers and the RMGC is already more than a decade old. It started in 1997, when Gabriel Resources experts came to Rosia Montana to drill into the mountains in search of metal.

This small village of 4,000 inhabitants was already famous in the gold business as the center point of an intense 2700-year-old exploitation. The Daces, the Carpathian Gauls, were the first to discover the regions large gold mines. Conquered by the Romans in 106 AD, they had to hand over the mines. The Romans dug impressive underground galleries that can still be visited today.

After Rome, the mines got into the hands of the barbarians who invaded the former Roman Empire. German colonizers took over in the 13th century. Gold mining truly peaked four centuries later when the Austro-Hungarian Empire annexed Transylvania. When Transylvania was reunified with Romania in 1918, the Carpathian gold went to Bucharest.

Tons of gold, tons of fish

"It's unbelievable that a Canadian company would have the nerve to come and teach us how to extract gold," says Cornea. "We have been doing it for 2,700 years. What was Canada in 700 BC?"

Some of the local farmers want to believe that it is possible to resuscitate their village through tourism, and fear that the cyanide-based technology used by RMGC to extract gold, will destroy the environment. Everyone still remembers the 2000 accident at the Baia Mare mine, in western Romania, which was exploited by an Australian company. At the time, a big quantity of cyanide was poured in the Danube River, killing 1,200 tons of fish.

The Canadian company, which has been keeping a close eye on Rosia Montana since 1997 drills revealed that the mine's gold was far from being exhausted, immediately created the Rosia Montana Gold Corporation, controlling 80% of the shares, with the rest given to the Romanian State.

"On average, there are 1.5 grams of gold in a ton of rocks," explains Hosu. "We are going to create an open air mine and a technology based on cyanide, while respecting the European rules on environmental protection."

But the RMGC exploitation project means tearing down a quarter of Rosia Montana. That's the core issue between the company and its opponents who refuse to leave the premises. To encourage them to leave, RMGC built a brand new neighborhood for them in the suburbs of the neighboring city of Alba Iulia. Since 2002, about 80% of the farmers accepted the offer.

But the small group that is still in the village promises to fight until the end. "Even for all the money in the world, I will never leave my home," declares Cornea. "I want to rest on my land when I die."

The financial crisis that led to the explosion of the price of gold is putting increasing pressure on the farmers: an ounce of gold was worth 200 euros in the early 2000's; it is now worth about 1,200 euros. Rosia Montana's gold mines could be worth tens of billions of euros in the future, a quarter of which would go to the Romanian State.

The Culture Ministry has already lifted the archeological constraints that protect the region's Roman sites. On August 18, Romanian President Traian Basescu announced his intention to support the project. "Show me one country in the world that would have such wealth in its soil and would do nothing to exploit it," he declared.

The mining project's opponents fear that the course of history is not in their favor. Still, there was that victory of David over Goliath.

Read the original article in French

Photo- AndreDea

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

Art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 你好*

Welcome to Tuesday, where violence erupts after Sudan's military coup, Australia finally gets onboard with climate change goals, and Harrison Ford stars in Raiders of the Lost Credit Card. From Bogota, we also see what the capture of drug kingpin Otoniel means for Colombia, a country long stained by cocaine trafficking.

[*Nĭhǎo - Mandarin Chinese]

💡  SPOTLIGHT

Saving the planet is really a question of dopamine

The elite of the ecologically minded are set to descend on Glasgow next week for the Cop 26 conference on climate change. But beyond debating policy prescriptions, French daily Les Echos explores the role our own brains have on making the right choices for the planet:

Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.

This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the "pleasure hormone."

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Stefano Lupieri / Les Echos

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Sudan in chaos following military coup: After Sudan's military seized power from the transitional government, defiant anti-coup protesters have returned to the streets of the capital city Khartoum, for a second consecutive day. At least seven people have been killed and 140 injured. Coup leader General Al-Burhan has announced a state of emergency across the country, while the military cut off access to the internet and closed roads, bridges, and Khartoum's airport. Washington condemned the coup and suspended aid, and the U.N. Security Council was expected to discuss Sudan behind closed doors later today.

• Egypt lifts state of emergency in force since 2017: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, announced the end of a four-year-old state of emergency, undoing powers that had given the government sweeping authority to quash protests, make arrests, search people's homes without warrants, and control everyday life in the most populous Arab country.

• Platforms take down Bolsonaro video linking vaccine and AIDS: Facebook, Instagram and YouTube have removed an anti-vaccine video from their respective platforms posted by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Beyond blocking the video, in which Bolsonaro falsely linked the COVID-19 vaccine with developing AIDS, YouTube went further and suspended the far-right leader for a week.

• COVID update: The U.S. will launch a new travel system on November 8, imposing new vaccine requirements for most foreign national travellers and lifting severe travel restrictions over China, India and much of Europe. Meanwhile, authorities in northern China are reimposing lockdown, and other emergency measures as COVID-19 infections spread to 11 provinces.

• Australia pledges net zero emissions by 2050: As one of the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases per capita and a major exporter of fossil fuels such as coal, Australia has finally committed to becoming carbon-neutral by 2050. This is a target already adopted by most nations heading to next week's COP26 international climate conference, but that Australia had so far refused to pledge.

• Japanese princess loses royal status over wedding: Japan's Princess Mako married her boyfriend Kei Komuro, giving up her royal status. Under Japanese law, female imperial family members lose their status upon marriage to a "commoner" although male members do not.

Raiders of the Lost Credit Card: A tourist returned the credit card of American actor Harrison Ford, who had lost it in Sicily while shooting scenes for the latest Indiana Jones movie.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"Out of control," titles German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, reporting on the release of a series of articles by a consortium of 17 U.S. news outlets, called the "Facebook Papers," that reinforce whistleblower Frances Haugen's claims that the social media giant is prioritizing profits over the well being of its users and society.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

$1.01 trillion

After striking a deal to sell 100,000 electric vehicles to car rental firm Hertz, Elon Musk's Tesla has joined Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google's Alphabet in the club of companies that have reached a $1 trillion valuation.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

What the capture of a drug kingpin means for Colombia

While the capture of Otoniel, Colombia's most wanted drug trafficker, made global headlines, Bogotá daily El Espectador writes about the significance of the news for a country that has battled narcotrafficking for decades.

👮 The arrest of the Colombian mobster Dairo Antonio Úsuga David, a.k.a. "Otoniel," is a victory for Colombian intelligence, law-and-order forces and the broader fight against crime. Details of the eight-year-long pursuit of the head of the Gulf Clan, of the tireless and meticulous work, testify to the capabilities that the police and army have managed to develop in the fight against the narco-trafficking that has long been a stain on Colombia.

🇨🇴🇲🇽 Otoniel is responsible for a criminal organization with more than 3,800 members and influence on 12 departments and 128 districts in Colombia (though data from the Bogotá-based Peace and Reconciliation Foundation counts 211 districts). The Gulf Clan sends half the drugs going out of Colombia, and is the main exporter to Mexico. Its ties to the Mexican cartel chief Joaquín "el Chapo" Guzmán are well-documented — and Otoniel had aspired to fill the power vacuum left by Guzmán's capture.

⚖️ Some have observed that the ensuing power vacuum will engender more violence, which is true. But we are, in any case, far from eliminating drug trafficking in Colombia or cutting its tentacles across public life. That shows the limitations of the hard-line response to drugs, when we have seen it is not enough. Still, it is essential in any fight against crime for the state to show its operational capabilities. The message is clear: not even drug overlords are above the law in Colombia.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"I love Mako. I would like to spend my one life with the person I love."

— Kei Komuro said during a news conference after his wedding with Japan's Princess Mako, the niece of the current emperor and the sister of the likely future sovereign. The princess lost her royal status as a result of her marriage with Komuro, a "commoner."

📸  PHOTO DU JOUR

An art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt, as part of the 2021 exhibition "'Forever Is Now," the first international art exhibition to take place there — Photo: Balkis Press/Abaca/ZUMA

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Send all commoner and royal well wishes to Mako and Kei — and let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! info@worldcrunch.com

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS
MOST READ