Tucked away in the mountains of western Romania, Rosia Montana has been a mining town for 2000 years. From Roman times, extracting gold and other metals from these rocks has been a dirty, dangerous business, and life there has never been easy. Safety, health and environmental considerations were rarely priorities, and decades of operations under Communist regimes left mountains of rubble that still leach toxic chemicals into streams.
When the Ceaucescu government collapsed, state-run mines like Rosia’s limped along, posting huge losses and continuing to ignore their environmental impacts. In 2006, most were finally shut down. Thousands of workers lost their jobs, villages were plunged into poverty, and families were reduced to surviving on pitiful welfare payments, scavenging for mushrooms and berries in the forests, and breaking up abandoned concrete facilities with hammers, to recover and sell their steel reinforcing rods.
Few families own a car. Indoor plumbing is almost unknown. Snowstorms make unpaved roads treacherous, and malnutrition and ill health are common.
Seeing an opportunity to make money by being socially responsible, Toronto-based Gabriel Resources proposed to reopen the mines, under modern Western standards and practices. In the process, it would create thousands of direct and secondary jobs in the village and surrounding areas, clean up the horrific environmental legacy, build modern homes and a museum, protect and restore ancient churches, and inject US$2.5 billion into the Romanian economy. The region would also get improved roads, wireless internet service, safe running water, modern schools and clinics, and dozens of new businesses – all of which would remain long after the mines finally close for good.
Almost immediately, the global anti-mining movement rose up in self-righteous indignation to oppose the project. Financed by George Soros’s Open Society Foundation, San Francisco insurance magnate Richard Goldman’s family foundation and others, the activists set up a local front group known as Alburnus Maior, brought in organizers and agitators from Belgium and Switzerland, recruited watermelon celebrities like Vanessa Redgrave (green on the outside; red on the inside), and launched an intense campaign of lies and vilification to stop the project and keep the area impoverished.
In the perverse tradition of Orwell’s 1984, their noxious campaign was presented to and reported by the media as vital to ensure environmental protection and corporate ethics, transparency and accountability.
As winter 2007 set in and the Holiday Season approached, the agitators’ efforts appeared to be paying off.
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