Business & Economy

From coal to culture: Romania’s mining belt reinvents itself

By Marcel Gascón Barberá

Bucharest, Jul 30 (efe-epa).- Catalin Cenusa has gone from rescuing miners trapped below the ground of Romania’s coal belt to rescuing the region’s cultural heritage.

Sporting the same orange jacket he used to wear for work, he guides a group of visitors around the Petrila mine, which closed in 2015 after more than a century and a half of activity.

Many of Petrila’s residents were involved in the industry one way or another and Cenusa wants to ensure the legacy of this culture does not disappear along with the pits.

EXTRACTING CULTURE

“Without our involvement, this mine would have been destroyed like all the others in the area,” Cenusa, a member of the Planeta Petrila association, which seeks to protect the Jiu Valley in southwestern Transylvania from decline, tells Efe.

Founded in 2016, the association sought to transform Petrila into a creative hub, something they feel could replace the leading role coal has played in the town for generations.

Ion Barbu, a Petrila caricaturist, tells Efe: “If we bring the amazing heritage of the mines to the surface and we give a post-modern touch, we’ll land something exceptional from a visual point of view.”

Barbu worked as a topographer in the mines of Petrila for 15 years and now wants to convert his hometown into a magical universe where art and imagination can fuel prosperity and a bright future.

The work of Barbu and the other members of Planeta Petrila has already started to bear fruit.

Thanks to them, Petrila has three museums and the pit that was going to be demolished by the government has been turned into a venue for concerts, festivals, theater and art workshops.

But the town’s potential, which would delight hipsters the world over with its post-industrial aesthetics, has yet to be fully exploited, according to Barbu.

Part of the fault for that lies with the authorities, he adds.

GREEN DEAL OFFERS SECOND CHANCE

Like many in the region, Barbu criticizes the Romanian government’s apparent unwillingness to use European Union funds, which it has been able to access since it joined in 2007, to support a green transition and create employment and investment in the area.

He hopes things will change with the EU’s Green Deal, which was set in motion by the European Commission in 2019.

If approved by European Parliament, the deal could earmark 25 billion euros to regenerate the economy and demographics of former mining areas.

Of this, around two billion could be destined for Romania, a large chunk of which would go to the Jiu Valley, a geographical depression that flanks the river Jiu in the southern Carpathians.

The region was once the motor of the Romanian economy thanks to its profound coal reserves.

“I know they had enough money to make things different today in Petrila, but unfortunately it hasn’t happened like that,” Barbu says.

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