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The purpose of this report is to describe forest and pasture commons of the Romanian Carpathian Mountains, which are territories of life owned and governed by local rural communities, potential ICCAs with historical roots. Coniferous and broadleaved forests of high conservation and commercial value, together with grasslands, alpine pastures and foothill meadows, approximately 1 million hectares of mountain land owned by a number of 1500 community groups spread along the Carpathian foothills and ranges. Governed through by-laws inherited from the 19th and early 20th century, the current commons recall much of the intricate realities of feudal Europe. Yet, revived by postsocialist property reforms of the 21st century, after they have been abolished by a socialist state, these commons embody many of the current ideals of a social economy, although in some cases they are scarred with problems of rural precariousness, resource conflicts and unequal access, and corruption. These issues should be addressed by programmes aimed at enhancing the capacities of communities and the potential of commons. The report systematically explores the ecological, social and economic features of the commons. It describes and compares a variety of local commons with different systems of rights distribution and regulatory frameworks. In the last two chapters the report identifies challenges to current commons and suggests a set of necessary actions for their improvement, related to policy and governance practice. The report is based on in-depth research led by the author in collaboration with project partners over the last 15 years, and draws insights from surveys, interviews and empirical case-studies.
Dr. Monica Vasile
Copyright: ©2019MonicaVasile
Citation: Vasile, M. (2019). Forest and Pasture Commons in Romania. Territories of Life, Potential ICCAs: Country
Report. 53 pp.
Report funded by: ICCA consortium
Reproduction of this publication for educational or other non-commercial purposes is authorized without prior written
permission from the copyright holder provided the source is fully acknowledged. Reproduction of this publication for
resale or other commercial purposes is prohibited without prior written permission of the copyright holder.
Disclaimer and acknowledgements: The information presented in this report is based on the author's own research,
and also partly on data obtained in Romanian Mountain Commons Project (more information available here, partly funded by the Romanian National Authority for Scientific
Research and Innovation, CNCS-UEFISCDI, project number PN-II-RU-TE-2014-4-2865. The quantitative data
available in this report was collected and processed within the Romanian Mountain Commons project, processed in
the AE database. The author wishes to acknowledge Irina Opincaru, Ștefan Voicu, and George Iordăchescu for
their participation in the project, and for their input in the research behind this report. The views expressed in the
report reflect the author's views solely.
1. Brief country description and context
2. Features of Romanian potential ICCAs
2.1. What are potential ICCAs in Romania? General overview
2.2. Numbers and coverage
2.3. Historical developments
2.4. Contemporary laws and regulations
2.5. Communities of rightholders: a typology of Romanian potential ICCAs
2.6. Socio-economic uses. Contribution to livelihoods and delivery of public
2.7. Governance and community participation
2.8. Small and large commons
2.8.1. Case-study 1: Forest Composesorat Tauții de Sus – Valea Gordanului
2.8.2. Case-study 2: Forest and pasture Composesorat Zetelaka
3. Area case-studies
3.1. Harghita County
3.2. Vrancea county
3.2.1. Case-study 3: Forest and Pasture Obștea Chiliile Zboinei
3.3. Maramureș county
4. Threats
4.1. Land grabbing and encroachment on the commons
4.2. Legislative and bureaucratic confusion
4.3. Conservation, sustainability and negative perceptions
4.4. Internal conflicts
4.5. Negative structural effects of rights distribution systems
5. Recommendations
5.1. Overview
5.2. Capacity building, information, training
5.3. Enhancing participation
5.4. Changing internal rules
5.5. General reccomendations
6. References
Map 1. Map of Romania p.6
Map 2. The network of protected areas Natura 2000 in Romania p.7
Map 3. Commons in the Romanian Carpathian Mountains, surveyed in the project Romanian
Mountain Commons (AE database) p.11
Map 4. Geographical distribution of types of Romanian commons p.21
1. Brief country description
and context
Map 1. Map of Romania
Cervus elaphus Sus
scrofa Vulpes vulpes
Map 2. The network of protected
areas Natura 2000 in Romania.
©National Forest Directorate
2. Features of ICCAs
2.1. What are potential ICCAs in
Romania? General overview
Grazing on the Southern Carpathian summer ranges.
Fagaras Mountains, Wallachia. ©Arryn Snowball
2016, AE database
Household work in Apuseni Mountains, Transylvania
©Monica Vasile 2010 8
obște obști
composesorat composesorate
asociație urbarială asociații
ocol privat de regim
ocol de stat
2.2.Numbers and coverage
Map 3. Commons in the Romanian Carpathian Mountains, surveyed in the project Romanian Mountain Commons (AE database) in
three main regions. Stars indicate the location of communities in which research was conducted. ©Monica Vasile
T r a n s y l v a n i a
Estimates from AE survey, Romanian Mountain Commons Project:
Land in Commons
2.3. Historical developments
rights of free holders
restitutio in integrum
Results from AE survey, Romanian Mountain Commons Project:
Shortcomings of post-socialist commons restitution; N=329
2.4. Contemporary laws and regulations
regarding commons
Village in Apuseni Mountains, Transylvania ©Monica
Vasile 2010
communities of rightholders
2.5. Communities of rightholders:
a typology of Romanian potential ICCAs
community of households’, a
territorial village unit holding the
rights to the land
Group of commoners of Composesorat Suseni,
before 1948. Harghita county, Transylvania. ©Stefan
Voicu 2016, AE database
Elected executive council of Composesorat Ciucani,
2014. Harghita county, Transylvania. ©2016, AE
group of people descending from
the first pioneer settlers
shared ancestry
de moșneni'
obștea de moșneni
moșneni peasants
too small
unequal shares, genealogically
grăniceri nobili,
inheritance principle
quota/shares system
inherited are transmitted and
Office buildings for composesorate/institutions of
former borderguards (type 4) commons in Harghita
county, Transylvania. 1. Ciucsangeorgiu 2. interior of
Ciucsangeorgiu composesorat headquarters, youth
orchestra practice room 3. Frumoasa, 4. Mădăraș
©Stefan Voicu 2016, AE database
monetary proceeds
are therefore quite substantial
very powerful
Map 4. Geographical distribution of types of Romanian commons, names of
studied counties by Romanian Commons project, AE survey. ©2016, AE
1 = territorial, egalitarian,
residence-based, obști
2 = descent-groups,
former freeholders
unequal shares, obști de
3 = heirs of former serfs,
unequal shares,
4 = heirs of former small
nobility, unequal shares,
Distribution of types detailed in section 2.5. on counties:
type 1: Vrancea
type 2: Gorj, Argeș, Vâlcea
type 3: Sălaj, Cluj
type 4: Harghita, Covasna
type 3+type 4: Hunedoara, Maramureș, Brașov
2.6. Socio-economic uses. Contribution to
livelihoods and delivery of public good
Mixed forests of commons obșteaTitești, Vâlcea county, Wallachia.
©Arryn Snowball 2016, AE database
The shepherds' hut and alpine pasture commons in Southern
Carpathians, Vâlcea county, Wallachia. ©Arryn Snowball 2016, AE
Alpine pasture commons in Southern Carpathians, Vâlcea county,
Wallachia. ©Arryn Snowball 2016, AE database
Festivities and weddings community hall built with funds from local obște,
Vizantea, Vrancea county ©George Iordachescu 2016, AE database
Bridge built with funds from local obște, Nistorești, Vrancea
county ©George Iordachescu 2016, AE database
Mountain chalet intended for tourism, built with funds from
local obște, Poduri, Vrancea county © 2016, AE database
Cheese produce from obstea Boisoara, Southern
Carpathians, Vâlcea county, Wallachia. ©Arryn Snowball
2016, AE database
Results from AE survey: benefits from the commons; N=329
Household production of lumber, Apuseni Mountains,
Transylvania ©Monica Vasile 2010
executive councils and
general assemblies.
comisia de
by-laws, statute
2.7. Governance and community
participatory system
assemblies of commoners
Commons assemblies in Southern Carpathians, left Vâlcea county, right council at presidium in Arges county,
Wallachia. ©George Iordachescu 2016, AE database
2.8. Small and large commons
Tree nursery of Zetelaka composesorat
and council members, president and
forest administrator ©Stefan Voicu
2016, AE database
Average surface of land for each common in studied
counties (units: hectares). Source AE survey database 2016
Size of communities of rightholders. Average number of registered commoners
per commons in studied counties. Source AE survey database 2016
Average surface of common land per each commoner in the studied
counties (unit: hectares). Source AE survey database 2016
Distribution of types detailed
in section 2.5. on counties:
type 1: Vrancea
type 2: Gorj, Argeș, Vâlcea
type 3: Sălaj, Cluj
type 4: Harghita, Covasna
type 3+type 4: Hunedoara,
Maramureș, Brașov
*for spatial distribution consult
map on p.21
Results from AE survey: statistics on counties
View from Borsec area in Harghita county, CC BY-SA 3.0
3. Area case studies
3.1.Harghita County
3.2.Vrancea County
View of Vrancea Mountains ©George Iordachescu 2016,
AE database
House and family from Năruja, Vrancea county ©Maria Rădan 2005
Logging with oxen in Nereju, Vrancea county ©Monica Vasile 2007
Council of obștea Ciliile Zboinei, Spinesti, Vrancea ©George
Iordachescu 2016, AE database
3.3.Maramureș County
By Herbert Ortner - Own work, CC BY 3.0,
Wooden barn in Petrova, Maramures ©Arryn Snowball 2016,
AE database
4. Threats
4.1. Land grabbing and encroachment on
the commons
4.2. Legal and bureaucratic confusion
4.3. Sustainability, conservation and
negative perceptions
4.4.Internal conflicts
Processing timber in Apuseni Mountains ©Monica Vasile 2010
Village gathering in Harghita County ©Stefan Voicu 2016, AE
4.5. Negative structural effects of rights
distribution systems
Tables with rightholders shares from before 1948, Hunedoara
county ©Monica Vasile 2016, AE database
Fishing on the Naruja River, Vrancea County ©Maria Radan
The first and most important
recommendation is to enhance the
recognition of the Romanian commons
as viable forms of ownership and
promote the values of equality,
collectiveness and democratic
5. Reccommendations
5.1. Overview
păduri comunale
obști composesorate
any action
concerning the commons should start
with rasing awareness about the
systems of rights and benefits from
commons, also the various existent types
across the country, at the level of
political actors and the general public.
5.2. Capacity building, dialogue
5.3. Enhancing participation
nforming the communities about
potential changes they can operate to
the by-laws
5.4. Changing internal rules, improving
Working in the commons forest, Nereju, Vrancea County
©Monica Vasile 2007
The problems do
not lie principally in how the laws are
formulated, but in how they are
implemented and enforced on the
ground. over-regulation
5.5. General reccomendations
Common broadleaved forests of obște Runcu, Gorj County
©Stefan Voicu 2016
Cheese produced at the sheepfold on the commons in Vâlcea
County, Tara Lovistei ©Arryn Snowball 2016
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... The other type of commons, the former serfs' compossessorates, was established in 1853 after the abolition of serfdom. The compossessorates functioned as a way of managing forests and pastures in the communities of Făgăras , Land until after the Second World War [54,55]. After 1989, in Romania, several laws on land restitution were successively adopted [54,56,57], which allowed for the re-establishment of compossessorates. ...
... The property is indivisible, the parts owned by each member are not distinctly outlined and cannot be sold outside the association [57,58]. Property rights arise from the right of first settlement in unclaimed territories, from land redemptions by peasants from landlords or monasteries, from royal or voivodship donations made to vassals and knights in the Middle Ages, from the reward of border services [54,55,59] and land allotment upon release from serfdom after 1848 [54]. In Făgăras , Land, the compossessorates are nobles or former serfs. ...
... In 1762, the communities on the Transylvanian borders of the Habsburg Empire received land on behalf of the military border services. The members of those communities were the descendants of a feudal cavalry class, similar to that of other parts of Europe [55,60]. The former serfs' compossessorates were formed in Transylvania in 1853, following an imperial decree allocating parts of the lands of the former landlords to the newly free peasants. ...
Full-text available
Făgăraș Land (Romania) is a very old administrative formation with its own identity, preserved from the beginning of the Middle Ages. The mapping of the intangible cultural heritage (ICH) highlighted the groups of caroling lads as the main strategic heritage resource, but also the existence of many other ICH resources that can be exploited towards the sustainable development of the area. These include local soups, an ICH gastronomic resource that can help build the area’s tourism brand. All resources, together with the peculiarities of the local medieval history, the memory of the anti-communist resistance in the Făgăraș Mountains and the religious pilgrimage to the local Orthodox monasteries, support the configuration of Făgăraș Land as a multidimensional associative cultural landscape. The content analysis of the information on ICH available on the official websites of the administrative territorial units (ATUs), correlated with the data from the interviews with local leaders, highlighted the types of local narratives regarding the capitalization of cultural resources and the openness to culture-centered community-based development, namely glocal, dynamic local and static local visions. The unitary and integrated approach of tourist resources, tourism social entrepreneurship, support from the local commons and a better management of the local cultural potential are ways to capitalize on belonging to the Făgăraș Land cultural landscape, towards sustainable community development of the area.
... In Romania there are four types of property rights over forests [11]: individual, state, communal, and associative property. The communal forest is a collective forest distinct from the public domain and administered by the town hall of a territorial administrative unit called "comună" [7]. Such forests resulting from the dismantling of the border institutions of the Austro-Hungarian Empire are in Transylvania (in the counties of Bras , ov, Sibiu, and Bistrit , a-Năsăud), and in Bucovina [6,11]. ...
... The people from the outside of the community/group of descendants cannot be commons members. However, the shares can be sold among members under certain conditions [7]. ...
... In 1762 the communities living on the Transylvanian borders of the Austro-Hungarian Empire were granted land in recognition of the military service they provided for border defense. The members of these communities were the successors of a cavalry feudal class similar to others from various parts of Europe [7,16]. They were called border guards and "nemes , i"-a word derived from a Hungarian term referring to the nobles [10]. ...
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The compossessorates are traditional Transylvanian commons. They were disbanded during the Communist regime and re-established after 1989 according to the successive laws concerning land restitution. The current article highlights the importance of compossessorates in the Olt Land (in the south of Transylvania, Romania) as partners involved in projects focused on the sustainable development of the area. To this end, the paper presents the main features of contemporary Romanian commons, underlines the sustainable traditional orientation of compossessorates, and signals the latter’s difficulty in establishing relations with environmental protection-oriented NGOs, in this case Foundation Conservation Carpathia which focuses on establishing a national park in the area. Consequently, the methods employed to achieve all of the above was the thematic analysis of publications found in the Anelis+ databases which were considered relevant for the theme of Romanian commons, and the content analysis of some normative acts and compossessorates’ by-laws dating back to the first half of the 20th century. The information on the relations between the commons and NGOs were retrieved from the official websites of the organizations, and from the media. The article shows that current compossessorates have social potential and economic efficiency. Their existence in the Olt Land is significant from an identity-based perspective. The latter is built upon the common interest of law makers and locals to constructively manage the forestry fund and respect property rights. Their functioning can be made more efficient. Both these and the NGOs openly state their sustainable orientation and that could contribute to reducing the tensions between them through correct communication. Ignoring the compossessorates’ sustainable orientation and their community prestige could sabotage any sustainable local development project if they are not consulted and invited as partners.
... At the same time, they are lands that a community owns and uses collectively according to its own rules [5]. The functioning of the commons contradicts Hardin's theory on the "tragedy of the commons", whereas it supports Elinor Ostrom's opinion [6] on the possibility of efficiently, equitably and non-destructively managing common property provided that there are enough strong and respected rules [7,8]. ...
... The rights of forest and pasture owners in Romania, especially in the mountainous areas, come from rights of first settlement in unclaimed territories, peasants' redemption of land from landlords or monasteries, kings' or voivodes' donations made in the Middle Ages to vassals and knights, rewards to border guards (Vames , Opincaru, 2017;Vasile, 2019a) [8,14,19], and from the granting of land ownership during the abolition of serfdom after 1848 [14]. ...
... In many cases the former owners became employees in forest enterprises. The commons' pastures went under the management of socialist enterprises or cooperatives [8]. After 1989 the process of decollectivisation [20] started in the former communist countries and the old forms of property ownership were re-instated. ...
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The compossessorates in Transylvania (Romania) are traditional varieties of commons. During the inter-war period two types of compossessorates were most common in the Olt Land, between the Olt River and the Southern Carpathians: those of the former boyars and the ones owned by the former serfs. An analysis of the 1904 Austro-Hungarian Regulation on the organization and management of the commons, of the 1910 Romanian Forest Code that was implemented in Transylvania after 1918, and of the by-laws of compossessorates, derived from the aforementioned documents, unveils the concern of both legislators and members of compossessorates for the preservation, balanced exploitation and regeneration of the forest fund and their focus on sustainable management of forests. The compossessorates were disbanded upon the instauration of the communist regime in Romania and re-established after 1989. Nowadays, compossessorates in the Olt Land continue the local tradition of sustainably managing the forests and the pastures. Their activity in this regard can be improved. Collaboration of the communal schools and the university with the compossessorates, the use of the Internet to promote their image and the involvement of NGOs in their support would be effective in this respect.
... The restitution spurred a recreation of mountain commons, a form of resurgent collectivisation, which, on the one hand, was seen as a reparation of past disposessions but, on the other hand, enabled new struggles and injustices -an ambivalent trajectory of resurgent commons worldwide, underscored in the introduction to this special issue by Adrian Nel and Connor Cavanagh. Nearly one million hectares of forests and pastures were restituted as commons in Romania to approximately 1500 communities, comprising 400,000 rightsholders (Vasile, 2018(Vasile, , 2019a. But, although international conservation and development agencies were starting to see commons as successful and sustainable forms of resource use (Agrawal & Gibson, 1999;Feeny et al., 1990), their resurgence in Romania was not met with enthusiasm by everybody. ...
In this paper we show that formalizing communal rights is a process riddled with struggles leading to a partial or total grabbing of commons. Drawing on long-term research and using interviews, surveys, and historical sources, we analyze struggles that emerged from processes of formalizing rights to commons, occurring one century apart in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania. The first wave of formalization, initiated by the state in 1910, institutionalized a model of hybrid commons in which individual rights to communal forests and pastures were understood as inheritable and tradable shares. This generated never-ending contention and a vulnerability to capital, allowing timber companies to grab shares and dispossess rightsholders. The second formalization, post-1989, enabled local communities to regain rights to forests that had been nationalized by the state at the beginning of the socialist rule. However, this resurgence of mountain commons unleashed again a suite of legal struggles, bringing back to life previous vulnerabilities and dispossessions. We argue that the formalization of rights often does not bring clarity and security to commons rightsholders. Instead, it creates a suite of vulnerabilities, ambiguities, and complexity within regulatory texts, begetting the grabbing of the commons.
... Nor is a hard and fast line drawn in Europe between protected forests and its owners: for example, in Romania, 225 of 1,500 com-munity owned forests and pastures have been declared national parks, nature reserves and scientific reserves. 30 What Are the Effects of Community Ownership on Forest Condition? Scientific reviews endorse the efficacy of devolved tenure approaches. ...
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This essay reviews international evidence suggesting that forest peoples in Kenya could succeed as forest conservators providing ownership of the forest is legally recognized. This essay is part of series of essays prepared by international legal and forest governance specialists reviewing the case for restitution of Mau Forest Complex in Kenya to their ancestral owners, subject to conservation conditions.
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Recent high-end EU discussions on biodiversity conservation support the strict protection of wild nature, thereby amplifying concerns about environmental and social injustices. Parallelly, grass-roots and academic proposals advocate for the fair recognition of community-protected areas and broader political negotiations regarding human–wildlife interactions. This paper argues that land commons offer valuable lessons toward implementing the convivial conservation vision as advanced by Büscher and Fletcher (2019). For example, the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 endorses strict protection of wild nature as a core element of economic relaunching. However, the focus on wild nature rules out the development of various biodiversity hotspots under human impact. Against this strict separation, various initiatives converge to make visible the efforts of indigenous peoples and local communities who combine resource governance with biodiversity conservation beyond free-market logics and human–nature dichotomies. This contribution takes the case of the Romanian forest commons and explores the synergies between these historical institutions and the convivial conservation proposal which advances postcapitalist conservation politics. The paper argues that the translation of conviviality to concrete pathways towards transformation is timely in Europe, and the commons offer valuable lessons which could advance a transition to more democratic and just forms of conservation.
Technical Report
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As negotiations intensify ahead of the UN biodiversity and climate conferences in late 2021, the time is now to recognise Indigenous peoples and local communities as central to sustaining the diversity of life on Earth. One of the biggest opportunities to catalyse transformative changes from local to global levels is to support Indigenous peoples and local communities to secure their human rights, and particularly their rights to self-determined governance systems, cultures and collective lands and territories. Although there are no panaceas, this is arguably a key missing link in efforts to address the biodiversity and climate crises and ensure a safe, healthy and sustainable planet for all. The Romanian Case spotlights the emblematic Homoródkarácsonyfalva community which reestablished in 2000 its ancestral system of common rights over forests and pastures. Since then, the community has also seen a turn towards nature conservation, including a return of emblematic species, lower rates of forest harvesting and celebration of voluntary established protected areas of cultural significance.
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