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Christian Amodeo in conversation with ... Stephanie Roth.

Stephanie Roth is a 34-year-old former reporter with the Ecologist. Now an environmental activist, she recently won a 2005 Goldman Environmental Prize for her part in the campaign to stop development of Europe's largest open-cast gold mine in Romania's Apuseni Mountains

How did you get involved in the campaign?

While working on the Ecologist, I covered numerous campaigns, but writing about something is one thing--after a while you want to go out and see if the things you've been writing about are true. My work at the magazine allowed me to see how campaigns are formulated and the issues involved. I was eager to see if what I'd learnt could be put into practice. It was just something I had to do.

Did you have any previous links to Romania?

No, not at all. It was all a coincidence. I heard about the local campaign to stop the construction of a Dracula theme park in Transylvania and volunteered to help. From there, I came here to fight another, more modern kind of Dracula--the mining company.

Rosia Montana is Romania's oldest mining settlement, so what's wrong with one more mine?

It's certainly the case that mining has taken place in this part of Romania since prehistoric times, and the Romans came to Rosia Montana to mine gold and silver. They've left behind a rich archaeological heritage that, along with 900 homes and ten centuries-old churches, is threatened by this new project. In terms of the gold, the seams of precious metals have long been worked out, but gold and silver are still dispersed in microscopic quantities throughout the area. Gabriel Resources, a Canadian-based company with no previous mining experience, intends to blast and pulverise the landscape so that the gold and silver can be extracted through exposure to hazardous cyanide compounds. Previously, mining and agriculture coexisted, but this huge scheme would destroy farmland, create a 185-metre dam across the Aries River valley and see the formation of a hazardous cyanide tailings pond that would cover up to 600 hectares, threatening water downriver and the health of 100,000 people.

What's the current situation?

Gabriel Resources is now conducting its environmental-impact assessment, which will take about three years. The company wanted to launch its assessment in October 2002, but postponed it when Romanian law changed to bring it into line with EU directives. All of the neighbouring countries that could be affected need to be consulted. There have already been gross irregularities. For instance, lots of the NGOs that registered to be consulted haven't been notified by the ministry of the assessment's launch.

Has Romania's accession to the EU affected the campaign?

The accession has many faces. It's clear that it's bringing greater democracy to Romania, but it also has economic implications that are very different from the political ones. That said, in 2003, a European Parliament delegation visited Rosia Montana and judged the mining project to be in breach of regulations--specifically a new rule on waste. In December last year, the parliament passed a resolution stating that the mining project poses a threat to the region.

Is it true that you've received death threats?

Yes, I have, but it hasn't put me off. In fact, it's only made me stronger. It's kind of a compliment, because it shows I've been effective. I don't know who made the threats--perhaps people who think they'll get a job at the mine. The mining project is promoted as Romania's largest foreign investment scheme, and some within the political apparatus would view us as a threat to the economy. Meanwhile, the mining company has access to high-powered politicians. They've used every possible means to undermine the campaign and bring its legitimacy into question.

How much local support have you gained?

Alburnus Major is a group of local property owners and subsistence farmers who've worked in the mining sector before and are refusing to sell their land and make way for the mining project. Its president, Eugen David, is a copper-mine engineer, and members also include topographers, geologists and engineers, so we know what the project entails. We aren't ignorant, as the mining company claims.

The churches pulled together and made a joint declaration condemning the development and announcing their refusal to sell their extensive lands. The greatest thing is how the local people have fought this, given what the mining company is inflicting upon them every day.

How else do you propose to combat the project?

We're now developing alternatives, starting with three sustainable-tourism projects. We're also holding another beneficiary rock festival based on the success of last year's concert. The Rosia Montana mining project is top-down, it's being forced upon the people--development as colonialism--as opposed to our bottom-up approach, which is about what the people who live there want.

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Author:Amodeo, Christian
Article Type:Interview
Date:Jun 1, 2005
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