ROMANIAN MOUNTAIN COMMONS PROJECT
Argeș county features a number of 19 obști, with 39.000 ha of forest, which represents 14% of the total forest fund of the county, and approximately 7400 ha of pastures (according to survey data), 8% of the total pasture area of the county. The obști in the area are unequal, organized on genealogical principles, and they also tend to be monopolistic, not to cap the amount of votes one person can have, or the number of shares someone can acquire, as in other cases from the Southern counties. A few exceptions here: obștea Dragoslavele has a cap at 10% of the shares that can be acquired, obștea Arefu has equal vote, regardless the number of shares a person has (one person, one vote).
This tendency towards higher inequality and concentrated power in a few hands has historical roots, as some families tended to influence more the decision-making process and to appropriate a larger number of shares. The shares are usually called dramuri (sg. dram). This measurement unit comes from the time when the mountains were leased to shepherds (17th-19th century), who paid for the grazing in cheese, and the cheese was measured in dram (sub unit from oca, ocale), thus a mountain produced a certain quantity of cheese which later gave the name of the shares in the commons.
Probably as a result of higher inequality and monopolistic propensity, the commons in the area tend not to invest in community utilities, but rather to focus on providing individual dividends and firewood for the members.
Case-study: Obștea of Berevoesti, Argeș county: membership dynamics
The dynamic and evolution of members, generically called moșneni, in a community of rightsholders is dependent on three important processes: 1) increasing the number of commoners and decreasing the value of shares; 2) the separation and transformation of shares into private property, enclosures, and 3) changing the rightsholders’ residence, the de-localization and spread of commoners. We will illustrate briefly these three processes using examples from the commons of Berevoești, Argeș county.
Obștea Berevoești has currently 1400 hectares of forest in the Năvrap Valley, in the Iezer Mountains, Southern Carpathians. The system of distribution of shares among rightsholders, locally called dramuri, is genealogical / non-egalitarian. Most of the rightsholders have 2-3 shares. One family holds almost 10% of the shares.
Landscapes from obștea Berevoești 2016.
In the first decades of its formal recognition, from 1910 on, Obstea Berevoești witnessed three cases of enclosures, separation of commons shares into private individual property, ieșiri din devălmășie. In total, three rightsholders, moșneni claimed and enclosed 410 hectares, i.e. 22.7% of obștea’s shares at the time. When obștea is re-established in 2000, law 1/2000 gave every commoner claimant the right to claim up to 20 hectares each. Some of the members were actually entitled to inherit larger shares than 20 hectares, but could not claim them, according to the limitations of the law. This meant that obștea’s patrimony decreased in postsocialism by 145 ha. The proportion of local commoners was 60% in 2000, the rest being residents elsewhere, heir of former rightsholders.
Currently, there is an explosive growth in the number of rightsholders and diminishing value of the shares per family are features in all communities with commons across the region of Wallachia. Since most of the by-laws of Romanian commons prohibit the selling of shares to third parties and prevent external persons becoming members, the number of members increases in most cases by inheritance succession.
In the case of Berevoești commons, at the time of its juridical establishment in 1910 there were 342 members, locals from Berevoesti village and also residing in the surrounding villages. Their number increased by 1945 when there are 381 commoners. In 2000, an exponential increase of members can be observed: 834 members are now listed as rightsholders. Every heir, moștenitor, was inscribed on the list of commoners holding rights, provided they are descendants of the 'old' commoners, those inscribed on tables of rights from 1945. .The excessive division of shares poses a problem, leading to very small shares. Statistically speaking, in 1910 the territory/rightsholders ratio was on average 5.89 hectares per rightsholder, in 1945, 3.67 hectares per rightsholder, and in 2000 after reconstitution, only 1.76 hectares per rightsholder. The average figures are indicative, but the number of shares are unevenly distributed among members.
Hauling in logs at obștea Berevoești in March 2017