Last autumn an environmental activist and two journalists were shooting a documentary on the deforestation of Romania’s forests, when they were attacked, beaten and threatened with death. Although there were dozens of attackers, the police were only able to arrest four. Some of them were employees of the National Forest Administration, who are paid by the state to protect forests.
This is just the tip of the iceberg that shows the reality that activists have to face. No wonder they are mostly doomed to fail. Support from Western Europe activists could be crucial in this respect, as in the case of the gold mining project “Rosia Montana Gold Corporation”. This billion-dollar foreign investment in Romania’s Apuseni mountains was stopped after almost twenty years of struggle, which included cooperation between Romanian and international activist groups.
Official statistics estimate that an average of 20 million cubic metres of timber are illegally logged every year in Romania. According to Greenpeace Romania, “local legislation fails to protect nature, even when legal action is taken.”
Some NGOs are trying to encourage the EU to protect forests. It would take many years for these policies to be effective, if they ever can be. There is no real political will to implement them.
Yet Romania is in a privileged situation. While Western European countries are trying to rewild some of their regions, Romania only needs to protect what is still there: over 500,000 hectares of virgin and old-growth forests, which is more than any other country in the European Union. Our biodiversity is unique. We need to educate the entire population if we want to prevent corruption and protect the forests, with the help of a strong civil society.
Where Romanian activists have neither enough knowledge nor tools, western colleagues could also help, with a strategy adjusted to the Romanian reality. The bridge that must be built between Westerners and Easterners rests on different foundations on opposite banks of the river, and needs a unique structure to bring the two sides together.