Petrila (Romania), 07/14/2020.- A general view of I.D. Sarbu Memorial House, a culture project initiated by visual artist Ion Barbu, located in Petrila city, 310 Km north-east from Bucharest, in Jiului Valley mining site, Romania, July 15, 2020. Ion Dezideriu Sirbu (1919 – 1989), the most prodigious man of culture in the city of Petrila, a Romanian philosopher, novelist, essayist and dramatist, was a victim of the communist regime, spending about 6 years as a political prisoner. He was born in a miners family, and after being . / EPA / ROBERT GHEMENT
Petrila (Romania), Jul 30 . .- Dressed in the orange jacket he wore when he was part of the rescue teams at the Petrila mine, in the Romanian coal belt, the retired miner Catalin Cenusa guides visitors through the farm where he worked for a quarter of a century.
Handwritten lettering on the back of the jacket gives an insight into his work at this coal mine in central Romania, which stopped working in 2015 after more than a century and a half of activity.
« Cultural rescue » reads on his back. “Rescate” is screen printed, and underneath they have added « cultural ».
From rescuing miners trapped underground, Cenusa has gone on to save heritage from an era focused on coal mining to which many of Petrila’s residents have dedicated their lives.
« Without our intervention, this mine would have been demolished like all the others that have closed in the area, » says Cenusa, a member of the Planeta Petrila association, one of the most active actors in society in the battle to save the Valley from decline. Jiu (southeast Romania).
Founded in 2016, the association seeks to transform Petrila into a pole of artistic creation, so that culture replaces coal in the leading role it has had for decades in community life in the region.
« If we bring the wonderful heritage of the mines to the surface and give it a postmodern touch, we will get something exceptional from a visual point of view, » explains Ion Barbu, a renowned cartoonist born in Petrila.
Barbu worked fifteen years in the Petrila mine as a surveyor, and now he aspires to turn his birthplace into a magical universe where art and imagination also mean prosperity and the future.
The activity of Barbu and the other members of Planeta Petrila has already begun to bear fruit.
Thanks to them, Petrila has three museums and the mine that was to be demolished by the Government has been the scene of concerts, festivals, theater shows, art workshops and exhibitions.
But the potential of this mining site, a spectacular post-industrial setting, is far from being fully exploited. According to Barbú, it is due to the lack of support from the authorities.
THE GREEN COVENANT
Like most of the inhabitants of the area, Barbu regrets the failure to use the European funds that Romania has had at its disposal since 2007, when it entered the European Union (EU), for projects that generate employment and income.
The cartoonist hopes things will change with the European Green Deal, the ambitious plan to support the transition to a greener economy, launched in 2019 by the European Commission (EC).
If the EC accepts what the European Parliament is proposing, the Green Pact will provide access to 25,000 million euros for the coal mining regions of the continent to recover economically and demographically from the blow of closing the mines.
Of this amount, some 2,000 million would go to Romania and a large part would go to the Jiu Valley, the depression that runs through the Jiu river in the southern Carpathians and that was the engine of the national economy for decades thanks to the huge amounts of coal from its subsoil.
A native of Hunedoara, the province where the Jiu Valley is located, Romanian MEP Siegried Muresan serves as rapporteur for the Eurochamber for the budget allocation of the aforementioned European agreement to fight climate change.
Muresan, who belongs to Romania’s ruling National Liberal Party (NLP), is aware that the bureaucracy to access European funds has been an often insurmountable obstacle for many entrepreneurs in areas such as the Jiu Valley.
The MEP of the European People’s Party (PPE) ensures that these obstacles will be eliminated both in the new multi-annual EU budget for 2021-2027 and in the Green Pact, by simplifying the procedures to obtain the funds. « In addition, the ban on adding bureaucracy at the national level will be introduced, » he says.
Before, in the late 1990s, the Romanian government gradually began to close its deficit and excessively subsidized deposits during communism (until 1989), there were 14 active mines in the Jiu Valley that employed more than 50,000 people. Today only four operate, with some 3,000 workers, and they will also be liquidated in the coming years.
According to data from the Romanian National Statistical Institute, the population of the six mining towns that make up the Jiu Valley went from the nearly 170,000 inhabitants it had in 1997 to the less than 100,000 it has today, a drop of more than 40 percent .
Part of Barbu’s hope comes from the consultation process with civil society in the area carried out by the EC to identify needs and invest money from the Pact efficiently.
In addition to Barbu, among those surveyed by Brussels is the American Dana Bates, who in 2000 settled with his wife in the town of Lupeni del Valle del Jiu and heads the NGO New Horizons.
Bates is passionate about nature and sports, and has created a mountain biking team in Lupeni in which about 50 young people from the area compete and train.
One of his projects is to create a 250 kilometer mountain bike route through the entire Valley.
« This area needs hope and new perspectives for the future, otherwise people will leave here, » he says, while watching the training of two members of his team.
The American considers mountain biking an ideal sport for the youth of the area: « they need healthy risks, healthy ways to pass the time. »
Bates also works with private companies in the region to make the Jiu Valley an international mountain biking destination.
For this, the American has already conditioned circuits and last year he brought the Romanian National Enduro Championship to the area, which was held in Lupeni.
It counts, among other allies, with the cooperation of the Mutt Society -an NGO from your country dedicated to helping poor communities through this sport-, which has donated several professional bicycles to young cyclists in the region, such as Daria Gruian and Gabi Muresan, two teenagers of 16 and 17 years old with a promising future in this sport, which is gaining momentum in Romania.
A WORLD THAT GOES OFF
The enthusiasm and enthusiasm of these young people contrasts with the despair that reigns in the Lonea coal mine, a few kilometers from Lupeni and one of the four exploitations that continue to extract coal in the area.
Efe spoke to the miners as they prepared to start their daily shift and go down to the galleries.
None of them wanted to give their name and all complained about the difficulties of working with instruments and outdated infrastructure in a mine that is due to stop operating in July next year.
« We do not have sufficient means because they have stopped investing; I wait for them to tell us that they are closing and retiring as soon as possible, » says one of them, who has 43 years and a quarter of a century of experience working underground.
Most of Lonea’s miners are close to retirement age, which is 45 for underground miners. Asked about their plans for the future, they all bet on living off their pension and none of them thought about looking for a new job or opening their own business.
« We are too pounded to start working on something new, » says the same miner before starting his shift.
The miners’ future plans illustrate one of the Jiu Valley’s problems. « The state has left people abandoned to their fate, » says Cristina Sandor, a former Petrila miner.
Sandor regrets that the only investment in the region was to pay compensation and pensions to retired miners and hope that people without training or business experience would create businesses and jobs.
« Since the mines began to close here, not a factory has been built, » says Sandor, whose son has migrated to the Romanian city of Cluj to earn a living in the technology sector.
« We would like to return to Petrila, but here there is nothing to do and accessing European funds to set up something is complicated due to the bureaucracy, » says Edi Sandor, who lives in Cluj with his wife, Diana, also a Petrila native.
EDUCATE THROUGH CLIMB
Dozens of children and adolescents also face this lack of future prospects in the old mining town of Vulcan, where the Brazilian Felipe Silva set up his NGO, Sin Límites, in 2012.
Along with his wife and the other volunteers from his association, Silva offers reading, math, guitar, science, basic finance and computer classes to more than 130 children and adolescents in the area, as well as the opportunity to start and compete in climbing.
« Since we started, more than 600 children and adolescents have passed through here, » says Silva, 31, in the climbing room he has set up in Vulcan.
« Climbing helps children solve problems », explains Silva, who adds: « when a child is climbing, he must look for solutions at every step to reach the top, which is the same thing we do in life to get where we want » .
This sport has just been included in the Olympic Games, and climbing halls have multiplied in recent years around the world.
From this point of view, climbing is also, for the Vulcan children trained by Silva, a professional outlet. « One of them has already found work in a climbing room in Bucharest, » says the Brazilian with satisfaction.
A CRUCIAL DECISION
Asked about alternatives to mining that could be developed on a large scale in the Jiu Valley with community funds, Muresan is clear that the region must choose between the two most viable models.
On the one hand, there is tourism, with its strong component of nature and sport, and on the other, an industrial reconversion that successive Romanian governments have not been willing to undertake until now.
« You cannot do both, because if the area maintains its industrial profile, tourists will not come in large numbers, » says Muresan, who sees the involvement of the state as essential through a strategic plan to revitalize the area.
Marcel Gascón Barberá