Lucian Spătariu – Pride and comfort
This is not a complete portfolio, it is the beginning of a new series!
”The fall of the Iron Curtain at the end of the last century has brought to the Eastern part of Europe a kind of freedom which was uncertain it will be handled properly. The next two decades showed that in most of the cases, from Romania to Bulgaria or Serbia, including the former Soviet Republics, political instability caused mainly by corruption and bad management was the only constant ‘value’. The former industry, especially the heavy one, which has once been the pride of these countries, fell apart in only very few years. Thousands of hectares of land remained useless due to pollution, hundreds of villages and towns fallen into neglect once the industrial units they gravitated around were dismantled, hundreds of thousands of people condemned ‘over night’ to poverty and dispair. The former comfort of their one- or two-room apartments or houses was gone forever.
The photographic series „Pride and comfort“, started in January 2014 and supposed to be continued in the Eastern European space for at least 5 more years, intends to show the exact sites on which this massive delapidation took place. On one hand the plant or mine itself, with its derelict majesty, on the other the houses or concrete blocks where the „proletarians“ and their family members used to live.”
Case I: The Roșia Poieni copper mine and the Geamăna village
The Roșia Poieni mine is a large open pit copper mine in the center of Romania. Located in the Apuseni Mountains, which are rich in metals like gold and silver, Roșia Poieni represents the second largest copper reserve in Europe with estimated reserves of 1.5 billion tones of ore copper. The Roșia Poieni deposit was developed between the sixth and eight decade of the 20th century within the so called Golden Quadrilateral (Abrud-Mușca-Bucium area). The mine produces around 11,000 tones of copper a year and is owned by CupruMin, a state company. When it has been officially opened in 1977 by Nicolae Ceaușescu himself, it was the largest open pit copper mine in Europe.
In order to deposit the steryl and the acid water that result from copper extraction a huge pond needed to be established. Naturally the nearest valley was chosen to serve as it and so the tailing pond Valea Șesii was projected. There was only one problem: the old village of Geamăna stood in its way. With its more than 1000 inhabitants living in around 400 houses it became an issue. At the beginning of the 80’s the authorities decided to sacrifice Geamăna for a matter of „high national interest”. They started to expropriate the villagers, giving them an estimated amount of money to leave their properties as the toxic water swallowed house after house. But some of the people whose houses were situated at a higher level decided to stay. At the moment less than 20 souls are striving to survive in Geamăna. They regret one thing: that the post-communist authorities didn’t keep their promise in moving the graves of their ancestors to a safer place. They lie now under a thick layer of steryl and red-green water around the „Three Hierarchs” orthodox church.
Case II: The coal mine in Anina and the „New Town“
The coal mine in Anina is one of the oldest of its kind in Eastern Europe: already in the year 1790 the entrepreneur Heinrich Hensch was making profit with coal extraction here. It is situated in the northwestern part of the Caraș-Severin County in South-West Romania. After more than two centuries of underground exploitation, the main pit reached a depth of 1,200 meters, making it the deepest mine in Romania and the second in Europe. The Anina mine goes down in history as one of the most dangerous underground works in Europe. More than a thousand miners have lost their lives throughout the years here. After the fall of communism the mine was taken over by the state owned ‚‚Compania Minieră Banat“, which operated the plant until 2006, when a severe explosion killed 7 miners and injured 5 others. The next day both President Traian Băsescu and Prime Minister Tăriceanu arrived at the site. Economy Minister Sereș, who also arrived at the mine, said that the scheduled closure of the mine could be brought forward earlier if workers agreed. The mine was closed a few months later. The final conclusion of the investigation commitee was: the accident happened because of the technician who authorized a controlled explosion without checking the gas concentration in the mine. Marin Condescu, the leader of the region’s main mineworkers union commented: „This explosion is the result of the authorities`lack of interest in this sector. The state has not invested a cent in mining safety since 1975.“
Situated on a hill next to the older part of Anina, the „New Town” was projected by the communist authorities -led by its „high architect“ Nicolae Ceauşescu- to host the thousands of workers who were brought from all over the country to build the Crivina Power Station, which was supposed to be fueled with oil shale from the mine. After more than 8 years of building and less than 5 years of working, the station had costed around 1 billion US dollars. It was shut down in 1988 along to the construction works on the „New Town”, whose most parts remained unfinished.
Case III: The Roșia Montană gold mine
Roșia Montană („Rosia of the Mountains”, Latin: Alburnus Maior, German: Goldbach or Rotseifen) is a commune of Alba County in the Apuseni Mountains in western Transylvania. The rich natural resources, especially gold, have been exploited since Roman times or even before. The gold mine of Roșia Montană with its largest pit Cetate shown in the picture, was state-run until late 2006 when it closed due to outdated equipment, just a few months before Romania’s accession to the EU. The Canadian mining company Gabriel Resources presented a new plan for extracting gold ”efficiently” to the Romanian government, which was inclined from the beginning in starting the business with a ridiculous percentage of profit for the Romanian state. This has caused controversy on one hand over the extent to which remains of the Roman mining galleries would be preserved and over concerns of a heavy cyanide pollution of the whole area and on the other hand over the benefits that mining would bring to this poor region.The campaign against mining at Roșia Montană was the largest over a “non-political“ cause in the last 20 years in Romania. Dozens of organizations spoke out against the project, from Greenpeace to the Romanian Academy. In 2009, the Romanian government announced it made the project a priority, but it continues to review the environmental impact assessment filed in 2004. In August 2013, the Ponta government announced that it will send through parliament a new law that would allow the bypass of environmental and heritage regulations that prevented the project from being started. This led to the massive 2013 September Protests against the Roșia Montană Project in major Romanian cities and within the Romanian diaspora in cities like New York, London, Amsterdam, Berlin and others. In November 2013 the senate rejected a draft law which would have paved the way for the mining project to go ahead. It seems a first important success for the thousands of Romanians who went to the streets to fight against the project. But Gabriel Resources remarked: „It is a first step in defining the next phase of developing Roșia Montană.”
The following documentation series depicts a part of my 4 hour journey from the top of the Roșia Poieni copper mine to the village of Geamăna. Crossing woods, brooks and puddles with acid water and steryl swamps (steryl is the material remained unused in mining), strange, almost unearthly scapes hit my eyes. Not until one of my legs was in part swallowed by the tricky steryl, which looks quite solid before you step on it, I understood that I am in danger. Fortunately I could free myself from the „steryl catch” and continue my downhill trip to the Valea Șesii tailing pond, which offered me the next morning the best view of the church I could hope for (see last picture).
Remark: The following pictures are not part of the „Pride and comfort” portfolio.
Lucian Spatariu is a Romanian photo-artist based in Berlin since October 2010. He is currently working on two long-term photo projects: ‘Pride and comfort’, started earlier this year, and ‘No regular business’, a series about young photographers from everywhere who have moved to Berlin in the past years. Spatariu has exhibited his work in various locations: his home town Timisoara, Düsseldorf, Munich, Berlin and Paris. More on www.spatariu.com.