Verespatak (Roşia Montană) is close to being added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, declared Romanian Minister of Culture Bogdan Gheorghiu at a weekend visit to Gyulafehérvár (Alba Iulia). As he pointed out, the government reinitiated the admission procedure not long ago, and so far, every UNESCO requirement has been met.
Verespatak, situated in the western Transylvanian county of Fehér (Alba), has been in the spotlight for more than a decade. The municipality is located in the picturesque Apuseni Mountains, which are rich in mineral resources. Geological measurements indicate that the mountain rising over Verespatak still contains one of the largest gold deposits in Europe.
In 1999, the Romanian government issued a mining license to a Canadian company, Gabriel Resources, seeking access to the site. This license authorized the company to invest over USD 650 million to prepare the site for mining. The plan was to create an open-pit mine, just nearby Verespatak. In the process of extracting gold and silver, cyanide technology would have been used; there were also plans to install a large reservoir to be filled with cyanide-laden waste products.
Besides the fact that planners could not rule out the possibility of an ecological catastrophe 100 percent, an open-pit mine would have entailed the total demolition of a large part of the mountain and the destruction of the natural environment; it would also have meant the annihilation of centuries-old gravesites and historical structures, for instance, parts of the tunnel system used back in the time of the Austro-Hungarian empire, as well as the destruction of large mining galleries of the communist era.
Due to the massive protests that hit a peak in 2013, the Romanian government decided against issuing the final permits needed by Gabriel Resources to start the mining. The company then initiated a lawsuit against Romania at the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), a branch of the World Bank, demanding USD 4.4 billion in damages.
In 2017, the Romanian government applied to list Roșia Montană as a World Heritage Site, but a year later, in an almost unprecedented move, a new cabinet temporarily pulled the application. In 2018, Ambassador Adrian Cioroianu, Permanent Delegate of Romania to UNESCO, declared that the Roşia Montana files were with UNESCO, but it would be better to continue with the admission process after the legal dispute between the private company and Romania was settled.
This January, Prime Minister Ludovic Orban called on the Minister of Culture to start negotiations with ICSID and find out whether the arbitration dispute between Gabriel Resources and Romania would create any obstacles to adding Roşia Montana as a historical mining site to the UNESCO World Heritage list.
“We have every reason to be optimistic that a final decision will be made at the next World Heritage Committee meeting, and according to that, Roşia Montană will be declared a World Heritage Site,” said Minister Gheorghiu.
Title image: The open-pit mine with cyanide extraction technology would have destroyed large parts of the natural environment and historical heritage.