Harghita county features a large number of commons. 47% of the county's forests are owned by composesorate (közbirtokosság), nearly 100.000 ha of forestland in total. They function as veritable village institutions, frequently sponsoring community activities and investing in community utilities. Nearly 20% of their revenues regularly go towards such investments.
Investments include: warm water installations with solar panels (Mădăraș), gas installations (Ciucani), reparations and maintenance of roads, churches and schools, building of cemetery chapels (Văcărești, Racu, Lueta for example), and houses of culture, celebration halls. They usually sponsor cultural activities, such as small village orchestras, or fire brigades, they sponsor funerals or birth events, also provide monetary help in cases of fire damages to households, provide stipends for students.
Researched commons in Harghita County
Commons in Harghita are usually large. From the 40 researched composesorates, 5 are below 500 ha, most are above 2000 ha and the largest is Zetea composesorate with over 10.000 ha.
The restitution process in Harghita county was problematic, a few common problems include: 1) delays in bureaucratic steps, ownership that was 'validated' by county-level council, but not 'put into possession' by municipality council, meaning without property title issued yet (for ex. 772 ha not on title at composesorat Suseni, or 150 ha at composesorat Ciucani, among others); 2) trials going on with neighboring localities in Bacau and Neamț counties (for ex. Ciucani composesorat has trials with the State Forestry District for 2000 ha, the Pauleni-Ciuc composesorate claims 1000 ha in the county of Bacău); 3) trials going on between commons and municipalities (for ex. 230 ha of forest claimed by composesorat Văcărești).
The forests are highly productive, mostly consisting of coniferous essence (fir).
Most composesorate own pastures, around 1/4 of their property.
Most composesorate own buildings in the villages, also machinery (for roads reparations, for agricultural work, for cleaning pastures) and a few have their own logging enterprise (for ex. Sântimbru, Merești), enabling them to create employment and to increase the value of sold timber.
On the land of a few compossesorates there are famous tourist resorts (The Tușnad Baths or the Borsec Baths) and branded protected areas, such as the lake Saint Anna. Also some of the lands have important mineral water sources that were industrially exploited since 200 years ago and in time became large businesses (e.g. mineral water Perla Harghitei and mineral water Borsec). The Borsec brand for example bottles yearly 350 million litres of mineral water.
Composesorat Ciucsângiorgiu takes great pride in its orchestra. They sponsor their events and accomodate their musical rehearsals in the attic of the composesorate headquarters.
Zetea. Case Study. The largest commons in Harghita is in Zetea (Zetelaka), comprising of 10.275 ha of land, 8305 ha coniferous forestland and 1970 ha grazeland. They plant annually 20 ha with seedlings from their own nursery and log annually around 40.000 cubic meters of timber. Logging and processing of the compossesorate timber is done by local companies, leading to approximately 500 local people employed in the timber industry.
Location of Zetea
The composesorat counts today 2500 members, of which approximately 65% are locals. Distribution of rights is unequal, based on succesive divisions among heirs of the initial members (from 1886) and transactions. The normative statute stalls the shares that one member can accumulate at 2.5% of the total. The average share can be calculated at about 4 ha and 20% of the members count around 1 ha.
Settlement and nursery owned by composesorat Zetea. @Courtesy of composesorat council
In 2015, the benefits for the members included (as the composesorate calculates according to different categories of revenue):
From construction timber: 195RON/ha
From firewood: 110RON/ha
From pastures (subsidies): 30RON/ha
For 1 sheep on pasture: 25RON
For 1 cow on pasture: 110RON
For example, a member without animals on the commons pasture, with 1 share (equivalent with 1 ha) receives 335RON/year (roughly 80€).
A member with 4 shares, 3 sheep and 1 cow on the pasture receives 1525RON/year (roughly 350€).
There are 4 members with over 50 shares, the maximum being 70 shares. The member with 50 shares and no animals receives annually 16.750RON, that is 4000€.
The president and the administrator see the role of the composesorate as “the most important institution in the community, a form of common management and householding that sustains and develops the community”.
Great emphasis is put on investment. Composesorat Zetea invested in their own factory for processing wild forest berries and wild mushrooms. They gather annually from local collectors quantities of 30 tones of blueberry, 10 tones of raspberry, and 30 tones of mushrooms (boletes, in Rom. hribi). In addition, they have their own farm with about 250 cattle that belong to the members.
President and forest administrator of Zetea composesorat in front of their headquarters.
The president and the administrator see the role of the composesorate as “the most important institution in the community, a form of common management and householding that sustains and develops the community”. In the future they would like to develop the farming side more and support small farmers with 4-5 cattle to market their products. The board complained that the subsidies system encourages large farmers and they faced a lot of problems as a collective to be able to apply legally as landowners and farmers. The board members declared proudly that the communities that have a commons are much better economically; they estimate that if there wasn’t a commons, 70% of the forest would have been sold towards companies and local people would not have any benefit.
Composesorat Sândominic. Case-study. Sândominic composesorat (Csíkszentdomokos közbirtokosság in Hung.) is one of the largest in the country, situated in the central-eastern part of Harghita county, owning and managing 8016 hectares of land, of which 6500 are forest, and 1500 are pastures, of which 650 are woody pastures. Historically, the commons owned another 2000 hectares, which were expropriated during the property reform in 1920s, for constituting municipality lands. Also, they are in dispute for 54 hectares with the neighboring municipality to the East in Bacău county. 674 hectares are included in the National Park Cheile Bicazului-Hășmaș and another 1100 hectares in the protected areas network Natura 2000.
The forest is preponderantly coniferous, young forest, very prone to wind-throw. From 1965 to 1974 massive wind-throws fell 2 million cubic meters of wood in the area; again, in 1995, another 2000 hectares were affected by wind-throws. In the last three years, the composesorate planted 75 hectares of forest.
The commons is not content about the inclusion in the conservation area, despite the fact that they received a large amount of retroactive state compensations. The president of the commons complains about bark-beetle infestations in the protected area; he fears that a non-interventionist management in conservation areas might cause extended infestations, which would diminish dramatically the commercial value of the forest. He also complains that there is no coordination between entities with interests in the land; the administration of the protected area is not well organized, there is no management plan; animosity between the commons and the protected area administrations started when there was a fire across the high rocky areas, threatening to take over the lower forest areas, and the conservationists did not contribute to extinguishing the fire.
There are 2170 members/commoners, 90 percent live in the Sandominic area. The system of shares distribution is unequal, however, the actual distribution is fairly equal. Two parishes in the area are members; the catholic parish is the member with largest number of shares - 61 hectares, 0.8%; the next largest one is the school – 50 hectares, 0.6%; the limit for buying shares is at 5% and the current board wants to lower the limit at 2%. The tendency is that persons with shares below 1 hectare to sell their shares.
Participation is good, approximately 40% of the members participate and the assemblies are peaceful. The composesorat films the assemblies and shows them on the local TV channel one week afterwards.
The composesorat is economically powerful: it employs 17 persons; it functions also as a community forestry brigade. It has its own forestry equipment, and they can harvest a part of the annual allowable quota (5000 cubic meters, ¼ of total). The revenues include 1) forestry, 2) a large amount of grazing subsidies, 3) protected area compensations; 4) they also own the buildings of the former socialist forestry brigade, which they rent out towards the forestry district.
Their main community investments include 1) building a mortuary chapel (where the dead lay before they are buried), 2) building 15 shepherds huts on the commons pastures, 3) the rehabilitation of 64 km of road (which they did in partnership with the municipality).
The president considers that managing the commons is very hard to do in the current institutional context. The main complaint includes the difficult fiscal legislation, the contradictions they have to overcome for keeping the financial accounting.