Valcea County
Lotru Valley Commons

In the Lotru Valley area the majority of forests are commons (obști). Their members reside in villages alongside the Lotru river and in the town of Brezoi. The latter has been the area's booming forest industry center since the begining of the 20th century, but post-socialist privatisations and industrial restructuring have dramatically reduced its production capacities. 

In this area usually one locality counts many commons. In total we found 20 commons, given below. During the last centuries, common land was subject to multiple divisions and reconfigurations among different groups. Sometimes, a group of villagers (ceată) claimed joint ownership over a mountain by virtue of ancestral rights granted by the status of free peasantry. Other times, a family bought land from the local landlords and in time, the heirs did not divide the land among successors, ending up with a 'family commons' (the Obștea of the Tărăști brothers from Voineasa, or the Obștea of the Mirionești brothers, also from Voineasa, see map below). Commons were legalized in the area as legal entities in 1910.

Lotru Valley positioning in Romania

Office building in Brezoi shared by local commons and the forest district

Monument to the forest worker built in 2008 in Brezoi

The generic name of the members, moșneni’ (pl.), is common for many commons in this part of the country. Coming from the word moș, meaning old man and also ancestor, moșnean (sg.) designates a person of the land, a native, and also a member of the feudal free peasantry. Still, today's members of the commons are elderly natives, claiming to be heirs of the free peasantry. 

Some of the commons from Lotru Valley are called by the name of the locality (for example obștea of moșneni from Voineasa, obștea of moșneni from Malaia), suggesting that these commons were large and owned by large groups of freeholders as the inhabitants of a village. Others are called by the name of the mountains (obștea Moliviș, obștea Repezi-Fratoșteanu), suggesting that these obști were owned by smaller groups of freeholders, organized according to the owned surface. Yet, others are called by the name of the initial families that bought certain lands (obștea of the Tărăști Brothers) and in time the property was not divided to the heirs.

A powerful forestry company called Societatea 'Carpatina' Brezoi (1920-1951), the follower of two other companies from Brezoi called 'Lotrul'  si 'Oltul' bought shares in almost all of these commons in the beginning of the 20th century. Currently, the Romanian state, which took over the Carpatina company at the beginning of the communist regime, claims substantial parts of the restituted commons. One of the largest obști in the area lost in court 80% of its surface against the Ministry of Finance, the legal representative of the state in this case. This is obștea Moșnenilor Voinesari, which we find in 1912 with 18.000 ha (according to Monitorul Oficial, nr. 22, april 1912), then in 2010 with 2559 ha of forest and in 2016 only with 537 ha.

We give further a list with the commons we found in 2016 and the surfaces of forestland for most of them.

Forest on Lotru Valley at different growth stages.

President of Obștea Moșnenilor Voinesari at his office in august 2016.

Voineasa commune

Obștea of Moșneni from Voineasa    537ha

Obștea Runculeț                                 869ha    

Obștea Delușelu de Jos                     274ha

Obștea of the Mirionești Brothers    1175ha

Obștea of the Tărăști Brothers         2287ha

Obștea Curmătura Popeștilor           611ha

Obștea Plaiul Vătafului                      542ha

Obștea Pleașa                                     46ha

Obștea Plaiul Poenilor                       1230ha

Obștea Dobrunu                                 1289ha

Malaia commune

Obștea of Moșneni from Malaia              4733ha

Obștea Moliviș                                          2313ha

Obștea Săliște (Săliște village)               6000ha

Obștea Repezi-Fratoșteanu                    1455ha

Obștea Târnovu Mare                               N.a.

Obștea Ciunget (Ciunget village)             N.a.

Obștea Plaiul Vânăta (Ciunget village)   804ha

 

Brezoi town

Obștea of Moșneni from Brezoi 6320ha

Obștea Valea lui Stan N.a.

Obștea Capul Plaiului N.a.

Obștea Dosul Teișului N.a.

Map of the Lotru Valley

 

The obștea of moșneni from Malaia

 

The commons from Malaia (Obștea Moșnenilor din Malaia) has 831 moșneni sharing in total 4733 ha of land, of which 4624 ha of forest and 119 ha of pasture. In 2000 when the commons were recreated, the memebers shared 7000 ha of land, yet, in time, other commons and individuals claimed portions of land on the same areas, and the property diminished significantly.

The forest of this commons “is not good for production, does not yield much profit”, according to its president. It is preponderantly deciduous forest, young and, according to forestry classifications, with protection function, inaccessible, set on rocky terrain. It was harvested by the state administration, before the restitution in 2000. Nowadays, the obște can log 10.000 cubic meters of wood, but mostly secondary quality.

The maximum number of shares held by one person is 10 lei (130 hectares).

The person who holds maximum is the heir of the former pub owner from before 1940, which accumulated many shares from villagers at the pub selling their shares in the commons for alcohol. There is no limit to how many shares one member can accumulate, which is different from most other commons that are more careful to prevent high inequality. 

The obște features internal conflicts, trials between the current management council and the old one, which contests the legality of the elections. A few members are usually aggressive during the village assemblies and suspicious of the activity of the council. The president considers internal conflicts to be a major problem, stemming from "envy and ignorance of what governance involves". 

The plan for the future includes renovation of a central village building to make it suitable for large gatherings and banquets, weddings and other celebrations. 

Benefits for members:

  • 450 lei (100€) for 1 share, equivalent of 34 lei (7.5€) for 1 hectare.​

  • 100 lei (22€) for one cow on the commons pasture (a total of 40 cows are kept on the pasture), resulted from EU subsidies

  • distribution of benefits is unequal, according to shares

  • roughly 70% of the members receive less than 450 lei (100€) annually as benefits

  • only 10 members receive annually above 1800 lei (400€) benefits 

Building to be purchased and renovated by the commons for community celebrations. 2016.

President of Obștea Moșnenilor Mălăieni in 2016. Vice-president 2007-2016.

Tara Lovistei Case study - Obștea de Moșneni din Titești

The obște has 1170 hectares of land, 670 hectares of forest and 500 hectares of pasture. Commoners hold unequal shares, although there is no high inequality. The voting capacity is capped at maximum 5% of votes per person, regardless the number of shares There are 450 members. The obște property is divided into 4 areas (trupuri, imobile), and each member holds a distinct amount of shares in each area. Many of the members do not exactly know how many shares they have and what benefits they are entitled to receive on behalf of their shares. Members receive a cash dividend from logging proceeds and a certain quantity of firewood at half price.


 

Commoners in Titești received cards with their number of shares. The man is searching for his card to show us, as he does not know by heart how many shares he has in the commons.

The most significant issue in the area is the competition for pasture. Some of the members are sheep owners, with a large number of sheep which surpass by far the carrying capacity of the common pasture. From the 500 hectares of grazeland, half are located near the village, and part of it (izlaz) is only for cattle. Two other parts are grasslands that can accommodate approximately 1200 sheep. The other half  (250 ha) are alpine pastures, situated in Titescu Mountain, which can accommodate approximately 1000 sheep. "The carrying capacity of the pasture must be around 2000 sheep, and the village now has around 6000 sheep. we have a problem!" (President of obște council, August 2016).

Each year, allocating pasture to sheep owners generates conflict, as the rules are not clear and power struggles are in place. Also, the villagers complain that in the month of September when the grass higher up in the mountains is no longer nutritious enough, the sheep owners come down with the sheep and let them roam free on the cattle's pastures (despite being explicitly prohibited by the commons' by-laws) or in householders' fields.

One of the grasslands closer to the village, Tomancu, hosts 700 sheep (left). The cattle's pasture (right) only hosts 50 cattle at the moment, but it is the ground of heated disputes.

Video excerpt from the general assembly in Titești on April 23 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vIpNrq8WcdI&t=193s