Vrancea County

The commons of Vrancea are different from the rest of the commons across the Carpathians. Here, all the members have equal shares, only one share for each, and, implicitly, equal votes. Each inhabitant becomes member in the village obște at the age of 18, provided they reside in the village. If someone leaves the village to live elsewhere, he/she loses the right. If someone moves in the village, the person can become a member. The right to membership is non-inheritable, non-transmissible and non-alienable.

This specificity leads to veritably community-based institutions with social functions.  Here, the commons invest large amounts of money, sometimes half of their revenues, in public utilities. Also, as a rule, they sponsor funerals and cases of extreme illnesses and surgery interventions that would otherwise be unaffordable for the members. Members in Viișoara village described the obște as an 'ultimate safety net'.

The obști in Vrancea are the most 'clear and simple' of all the commons we encountered, for two reasons:

By contrast to other areas of the Carpathians, the restitution of commons in Vrancea went very smoothly, without confusion and trials.

The system of equal rights distribution generates an important advantage, by avoiding confusion and quarrels regarding genealogies and inheritance, which persist in many of the other commons. The system also favors a sense of community and 'benefit for all'.

RO

ENG |

Vrancea is the only place in the Carpathians where we found logging with oxen.

The forest over Sahastru village, commune of Nereju.

Researched obști in Vrancea according to size of owned forest surface. Source: Associative Environmentality database 2017 @Stefan Voicu

For other maps please see here  

  • The commons of Vrancea count a total amount of over 60.000 ha of forests and pastures, across 30 commons.

  • Main revenues come from logging. Pastures are not abundant. The forests of most obști are productive; preponderantly coniferous and over 80 years old; however, most land surfaces are prone to erosion and slides; the accessibility to the forest is problematic, most roads being broken; Vrancea is probably the only area of the Carpthians where logging is still done with oxen.

  • In total they count roughly 24.500 members

  • The commons in the area are usually large, over 1000 ha. The largest is the obște of Tulnici with 13.000 ha.

  • The legend says that a medieval ruler from the 15th century, Stephen the Great, donated the land to the inhabitants of Vrancea for military merits. The legend is proudly recounted and featured in various local monuments, contributing to strengthening local identities and the bond between people and their commons.

  • Almost all villages in the area have their obște.

  • A few villages do not have an obște, either because they were relatively recently formed (Ploștina) or because they sold their property in the course of time (Bodești).

  • A few villages have smaller surfaces, up to 400 ha, again because of similar particular situations, such as land sales (Rugetu) or recent formation and struggles over property between villages over long periods of time (Prahuda, Vîlcani, Ghebari).

Vrancea county in August 2016.

In Vrancea, the villages are lined up on three river valleys (Putna, Năruja and Zăbala) and the forested mountains with few pasture areas are clustered together to the western side, about 20 to 60 km away from the inhabited village areas. Only a few localities have their properties close to the mountain, Nereju, Tulnici and Hăulișca.

The geographical distribution does not follow a classical model of villages surrounded by forests and pastures, and this gave way to conflicts in the course of history, concerning which mountains belong to which village? Sociologist Henri H. Stahl (1901-1991) explains that initially, the whole mountain area was owned and used jointly by the whole Vrancea Country and, over time, because of growing grazing necessities, villages divided the mountains between them with a lot of struggle. The first division of the mountains between villages took place in 1755. Subsequently, another five division actions took place, the latest in 1840. This late survival of joint possession for a whole region is unique in Romania and, with the exception of some Albanese regions, in Europe. As H.H. Stahl describes, the distribution criteria was the monetary contribution of each village at the “great trial of Vrancea” against a powerful landlord claiming its lands starting in 1801.

In case of fire, obștea Nereju intervenes in all villages on the Zabala Valley. The commons owns this second hand fire truck. 2016

Difficult roads are a great concern for the commons. This is the road to mountain Căbălașu de Jos, of obștea Poduri in a situation when forestry drivers had to sleep by the road and wait for the soil to dry. @courtesy of obștea Poduri

       Current governance concerns

  • A few obști declared they faced problems with the timber price. The concern regards the market price in the country, which is kept low and, on top of that, the prices generated by local economic agents. Because the area features a high number of local logging companies, which are likely to ally for maintaining low prices, many obști suffered pressures to sell their timber cheap. Some of the obști solved this problem, resisted the local businessmen and fixed the prices at higher levels.

  • Another declared problem refers to 'theft' of timber from the forest by local logging companies, those which log illicitly on top of what they buy from the obști.

  • A troublesome issue for many interviewed presidents was the interference of political issues in their affairs, with dramatic consequences for the members, such as long lasting trials and economic problems.

  • A few commons declared that the most problematic issue is the dense regulations concerning both financial and forestry issues, leading to constant fear of mistakes and fines.

  • Also, the fact that forestry roads are not owned by the commons, but by the municipalities, prevent the possibility of reparations which are most needed in order to make profits.

  • A widespread consideration was that most commoners do not have an understanding of what it means to manage a commons and thus the decisions they take in the general assembly lack economic vision and are rather 'retrograde'.

Interactive map of researched commons in Vrancea County. Please click on the red dots for details about each obște. Scroll down in data window for more information and click on photos and arrows for visualizing images. Source: Associative Environmentality data base 2017

Case-Study. Obștea Chiliile Zboinei of the village of Spinești is frequently given as an example of a well working obște in the area. Despite the fact that they do not own the largest forest surface, the ratio surface/members is high. The president is very popular and he was elected time and time again since the restitution of obștea in 2000. The obște does not feature internal conflicts or various suspicions and disputes between the members and the council, as we found in a significant number of other obști.

  • It has 3447 ha of  forestland, 100 ha of pasture from which only 55 are subsidized, and 1000 members.

  • Their forest is productive, preponderantly coniferous and over 80 years old; can be logged and sold at good prices.

  • The obște replanted 90 ha of forest in the last 3 years.

The profit made from selling timber and grazing subsidies is distributed to members and invested in the community.

Obștea council members in Spinești. 2016

Council of obștea Spinești in August 2016.

   Member & community benefits at Spinești:

  • Approx. 50% of the profit of obștea Spinești was invested in 1) rebuilding four forestry cabins, which are intended to be used as tourism facilities in the future; 2) rebuilding the village church; 3) building a celebration hall; 4) reparations and furniture for the school. Future plans include extensive roads reparations.

  • 50% was distributed to members, reaching a value of 150 euro/member/year

  • Wood is sold to members at preferential prices: firewood and construction timber (up to 3 cubic meters per member 50% below market price)

  • Other benefits for members: funeral sponsorship of 250 euro/case, in one year approximately 15 cases; sponsorship for medical treatment in case of severe illness.