Roșia Montană, a disputed Roman-era gold mine in Romania’s Carpathian mountains, has been granted UNESCO World Heritage status.
The area was added to UNESCO’s danger list of threatened world heritage during a meeting in Fuzhou, China, on Tuesday 27 July, marking a victory for Romanians’ two-decade long campaign to stop mining in the region.
Local inhabitants first called for the site to be protected in 2000 when the Roșia Montană Gold Corporation was given a license to begin extraction in the area, threatening their homes. Conservationists quickly revealed that the plans, which had been approved without a transparent bid, would see the destruction of three villages and four mountain tops, and would risk cyanide being released into the local ecosystem. Tens of thousands of protestors later took to the streets in 2013, when the Romania’s Social Democratic government backed down on their election pledge to halt the works.
Romanian President Klaus Iohannis welcomed the UNESCO decision. “I salute the inclusion of the cultural mining landscape of Roșia Montană in the world heritage,” he wrote on Facebook. “Roșia Montană should become a model for enhancing the value of heritage through the sustainable development of the area.”
Campaigners, however, remain concerned that the Romanian government still has the power to withdraw the UNESCO heritage status, leaving the area once again open to exploitation. Meanwhile, the largest shareholder of Roșia Montană Gold Corporation, Gabriel Resources, has also filed an international lawsuit which could force the Romanian government to pay compensation worth £4 billion.
Local leaders also remain divided on the issue. “[The UNESCO heritage status] does not bring benefits to the community or to the country,” the mayor of the Roșia Montană municipality, Eugen Furdui, told Romanian television Digi24.