Last week, Romanian Prime Minister Mihai Tudose said that the state is looking for ways to withdraw its nomination of Rosia Montana – known in Hungarian as Verespatak – to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, raising serious concerns about the continued preservation of an ancient town that has been inhabited since the Bronze Age.
The settlement, currently home to historic communities of ethnic Hungarian and German minorities, is famous for its 2,000 year-old mining complex built during the Roman Empire that has been preserved and is today still accessible to visitors. The town also boasts the ruins of an ancient Roman castle, Alburnus Maior, making it a strong candidate for World Heritage Site status.
The prime minister was fairly blunt about the reason for the unprecedented move to pull the nomination request. According to Romania Insider, Prime Minister Tudose “argued that Romania would no longer be able to exploit the mineral resources of Rosia Montana if this area was to be declared a protected area.”
Rosia Montana have made international news in the last 15 years as demonstrators have been protesting the plans of a Canadian mining company, Gabriel Resources, to open a cyanide technology-based gold mine in the area.
The opposition argues with the tragic Baia Mare cyanide spill, a catastrophe called the “worst environmental disaster in Europe since the Chernobyl disaster”. In the Baia Mare incident, cyanide-contaminated water spilled from a dam at Aurul, a joint mining venture of the Romanian government and an Australian company Esmeralda Exploration. The toxic water, carrying over 700 times the permitted level, killed virtually all fish in the Hungarian section of the Tisza River and 80 percent of aquatic life. Sources at the time reported that it contaminated the drinking supplies of over 2.5 million Hungarians.
The tragedy raised awareness of the outdated and dangerous cyanide-based mining technology in Europe. In my report on the implementation of the mining waste directive earlier this year, I also recalled the Parliament’s resolution of 5 May 2010 on a complete ban on cyanide mining in the EU. I do believe that ’lowest cost-most prone to failure’ technologies must be eliminated.
Together with those local and international civic organizations who fought against the use of cyanide-based technology in the mining in Rosia Montana, I welcomed the decision of the outgoing Romanian government to nominate the town as a UNESCO World Heritage site. “The last-minute move,” at the time, restored hope that Rosia Montana would be saved, and the gold mine using cyanide technology would not be built.
Seven months later, we are back to square one. This move would seriously consider to sacrifice Rosia Montana’s safety and its unique natural and cultural heritage for the handful of gold its mines may still hold.