Balkan Insight | 28 July 2021
Ancient Romanian gold mine given UNESCO protection
A Roman-era gold mine in Rosia Montana in central Romania has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, making it more difficult for companies to resume mining operations in the precious metal-rich area.
Following weeks of uncertainty in which the Bucharest government considered withdrawing its application for UNESCO protection for Rosia Montana, a former gold mine dating from Roman times, the UN cultural heritage agency declared it a World Heritage site on Tuesday.
The move came as a relief to conservation groups who oppose the resumption of mining in the area.
The decision, which adds the Rosia Montana Mining Landscape to the World Heritage in Danger List, was announced during a session of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee in Fuzhou in China.
The listing of Rosia Montana as a UNESCO-protected site has long been the aspiration of Romanian and international civil society groups whose activism manage to halt a project by Canadian mining company Gabriel Resources to mine gold and silver in the area using cyanide.
The derailment of the plans led Gabriel Resources to sue the Romanian government for $5.7 billion over an alleged breach of contract before the Washington-based International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes, ICSID, which is part of the World Bank. The process is still ongoing.
The NGOs that are opposed to mining see the UNESCO World Heritage site status as a necessary condition for the village, which is considered one of the longest-operating traditional mining centres in the world, to develop eco-friendly alternatives to mining, such as cultural and green tourism.
But the ground in the area contains hundreds of tons of gold and silver, which makes it one of the largest reserves of precious minerals in Europe, and many are doubtful that the local community can afford to renounce such riches.
“It does not bring benefits to the community or to the country,” said the mayor of the Rosia Montana municipality, Eugen Furdui, after hearing about the UNESCO decision.
“Let’s don’t forget that it blocks, in the medium and long term, Europe’s largest reserve of gold and silver,” he added.
Romania’s president, Klaus Iohannis, reacted positively to the news, however.
“I salute the inclusion of the cultural mining landscape of Rosia Montana in the world heritage [list],” Iohannis wrote on Facebook, adding that it “should become a model for enhancing the value of heritage through the sustainable development of the area”.
Romania first submitted a request to UNESCO for the listing of the Roman mining site under a technocrat government in 2017.
The following year, it was withdrawn by a government led by the Social Democratic Party, only to be reintroduced in 2020 by a National Liberal Party administration.