The villages of Girbovita and Rimet are located high in the Apuseni mountains, nestled within a landscape which has hardly changed since medieval times. The valleys and peaks are breathtakingly beautiful, but the reality of life in this part of Romania is not so rose-tinted, with many areas facing an uncertain future.
The Communist rule had a hugely negative impact on the communities of the area and set back progress by many years. Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena ruled the country from 1965 until 1989. During this time, Romania underwent several changes, and the population had to endure an endless number of injustices and restrictions. The farms had to meet strict production quotas, give up animals and machinery for the Communist cause and could trust no-one.
The mountain villages we visited were remote and only accessed by rough dirt tracks; the bus service ran once a week on market day, and it was easy to see how communities could become cut off from essential services in the winter months. The Mayor of the region, Vasile Raica, spoke about plans to tarmac the roads and how he hoped this would make the valleys more accessible and bring more people into to the area. He spoke about how hard it is to attract young people back once they have left for college or work and how the population was gradually aging. Parallels can be seen within the Yorkshire Dales National Park, especially in the hill farming communities of the upper dales.
One avenue that could be explored as a way forward for the area is tourism, possibly looking at ways to increase visitor numbers to the area and to provide jobs, without spoiling the landscape.
There may be some scope for trying to obtain State recognition of the special qualities of the area such as National Park status, which would benefit the region and attract more investment. There are already 14 National Parks in Romania, with Retezat National Park, in Hunedoara County, being the oldest and most similar in landscape terms to the Apuseni Mountains. Even without National Park status the area has so much to offer and activities such as camping, cross country skiing, hiking / walking / trekking, mountain biking, rock climbing, wildlife and bird watching would all be very attractive to the tourist market. In the UK the role of National Parks is defined in Parliament and we have two statutory purposes:
- to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the National Park.
- to promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the area by the public.
In pursuing these purposes, we are also required:
- to seek to foster the economic and social well-being of local communities within the National Park.
These statutory purposes fit well as a means of addressing the challenges faced by the communities in the areas we visited, but without State support and funding, any regeneration of the area is going to be limited and very slow, relying on the entrepreneurial spirit of the people who have a passion this very special part of Romania.
The future for the communities, as things stand, seems to be fairly bleak but if improvements to the basic infrastructure in the region come to fruition, and the communities are willing to embrace change, then I believe that something positive can be achieved.