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The battle is being fought over an area heavily influenced by its mining history, where the environmental impacts have left behind a legacy difficult to manage. Stream waters near the mines run red because of the cyanide pollution, and the scarred hills seem to have been blown over by a cataclysm. During the Age of Gold [the Ceauşescu dictatorship], reducing pollution was not a priority of the communist regime. The quality of people’s lives meant nothing. And they have every reason to be frightened.

One of the main problems of the Roşia Montană project is the lack of trust that permeates it. The who’s-who of the major shareholders in Gabriel Resources [the parent company of Romania Gold Corporation] listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange is typical: billionaires, with a big appetite for financial speculation. Among them are Paulson & Co. and Electrum Strategic Holdings, investment funds specialising in gold, and Newmont Mining Corp. (USA), one of the world’s leading gold producers, whose shareholders include billionaire George Soros.

The Romanian state, through Minivest, is the largest single shareholder in the joint venture, holding 19 percent of the shares. But its participation seems undervalued. To be sitting on a mountain estimated to hide up to 300 tons of gold under its rock and grass ought to encourage a more substantial involvement.

Every miner’s house in Roşia Montană, the story had it, has a tunnel that winds back to quarries of gold. Whether that was ever true can no longer be said, because Romania Gold Corporation has bought up all the houses.
Before the gold of Roşia Montană can be mined, this joint venture between the Canadian company Gabriel Resources and the state-owned Romanian Minivest awaits only an environmental certificate.

The hard core of opposition to reopening the mine, which was closed in 2006, argues that the project would wipe the Cârnic massif off the map, reduce to rubble a cultural heritage that dates back to antiquity, when the Romans exploited the gold in the region, and that the region could be seriously contaminated by the dangers of cyanide extraction technology. For its part, Gold Corporation argues that it will safeguard the archaeological heritage...

The financial crisis has boosted the price of gold to dizzying heights, and the analysts are expecting a steady growth in the payout for the precious metal. We are witnessing here a classic battle between industrial civilisation and the representatives of the post-industrial age who are opposed to the brutal exploitation of nature.


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