A mining community in Romania is living a profound identity crisis as the country’s coal industry is dismantled, but on a deeper level this local story reveals the seeds of a worldwide crisis that we’re witnessing today.
For a century, workers from all around Balkans blended to the Jiului Valley into an isolated, multicultural, multiethnic community united by the deadly harshness of mining. They fought for their rights, have been privileged by the communist dictatorship, but ended up marginalised after the political power manipulated them to beat and kill hundreds of democratic protestors in 1990, at the dawn of Romania’s post-communist, post-industrial age.
Today, this community is struggling, trying to reinvent its collective identity as the coal mines are being shut down. Subsequent governments did nothing to sustain the area or offer alternatives to mining.
I have worked 2 years on this project, driven by two motives. First was a vivid and personal memory of a schoolmate almost being killed in 1990 rallies. Knowing the authors were “miners”, I have started to question what is really “a miner” and realised it’s merely a label that we’re using to name something we don’t really understand.
Second, I think this is a rather universal story about how collective identities are so often swiped away by the triumphalist march of the progress, planting the seeds for future social conflicts. We can now see its aftermath in the rise of populist and iliberal movements around the world. While post-industrial stories have been published for decades, this new story comes at a time when we have the full context to understand its true meaning beyond the local.
I believe this tale about a remote mining community in Romania is also a story about the birth of a worldwide crisis, allowing us to reflect upon how it started on a local scale and what could we do to to improve a future that concerns and affects us all.
A miner from Paroseni coal mine is leaning to see outside the elevator which lowers him to the galleries of the mine.
Three miners have boarded the elevator which will carry them to the galleries of Petrila coal mine, 970 meters underground.
Miners from Petrila coal mine are pushing “the last coal wagon” to the elevator which would lift it to the surface, in the morning of October 30, 2015, the date when the mine has been officially shut down. “We haven’t used wagons in years”, said one of the miners. “Last night me and my colleagues prepared this ‘last wagon’ especially for the show today”.
Two miners are pushing a wooden door, blocked by the difference between the pressure of the air in two sections of the gallery, in Paroseni coal mine.
Medallions used for identifying the bodies in case of severe accidents are laying on a wall in Petrila lockers area. “An explosion… twists the steel railways like spaghetti”, said a former rescue miner, now retired.
Miners are showering at the end of the last working shift of Petrila coal mine, the morning of October 30, 2015, the day the mine has been officially shut down.
A woman is carrying a sack with 40kg of coal she stole from the train loading station of Petrila mine. For many of the inhabitants of the area, stealing small quantities from the mine is a way of survival. The woman in this picture is 51 and could find no job in the area. She is using the stolen coal for heating and cooking, and occasionally selling it to buy food and cloths for her and the two children she takes care of.
Adrian and his grandmother, Elena Laib, have settled in an abandoned house in “Bosnia” neighbourhood, next to Petrila coal mine. The owners of the house have left the country years ago but intend to return, so Elena is prospecting for another abandoned house for her and the two minors she is taking care of. The parents of the minors have abandoned them, leaving to work in Italy.
Elena Laib and her two grandchildren are relaxing in the house they have settled to, in the “Bosnia” neighbourhood next to the Petrila coal mine. The parents have abandoned the two children for years, leaving to work in Italy. Elena could not find any job. For many inhabitants in the area, stealing small quantities of coal from the mine is their way of survival.
Adrian is warming up while watched by a neighbour, inside the house where he lives with his sister and their grandmother in the “Bosnia” neighbourhood near Petrila coal mine. The stove is fuelled with stolen coal, as Adrian’s grandmother could not find a job in the area. For her, like for many inhabitants in the area, stealing small quantities of coal from the mine is their way of survival.
A emergency services technician is replacing one of the sirens placed on the rooftop of an eight stories apartment building in Petrila and being used to announce natural disasters. These sirens are the ones which announced also the accident which happened in 2009 at Petrila coal mine and which terminated the lives of 14 people.
Local artist Ion Barbu is photographed outside a facade he painted in Petrila, Jiului Valley. As mining is fading away in the area, about 20% of the population has migrated to Western Europe to find work and better wages. Barbu’s painting represents a post-card, as a reminder of the depopulation of the area.
Furniture and objects painted in gold by Petrila local artist Ion Barbu make an ironical reconstruction of the habitation during the “Golden Era”, as the communist authorities used to call the grim decade of the 80s during dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu whose picture is shown inside a TV frame. During those times, population had to wait in line for hours to buy food, had almost no heating during the cold seasons, and was under the constant terror of the state security.
Miners from Lupeni coal mine are drinking in the hallway of the Mining Syndicate Center built during communist era.
The library of the Mining Syndicate Center in Lupeni, Jiului Valley, lays abandoned. During communism, there was an effort to spread the culture to the workers, so all the mining cities in the area had libraries, cinemas, even photography or film clubs. In many cases, though, these used to function just as propagandistic centers for the communist regime. After the fall of the communism, most of these facilities have been abandoned.
A teenager is wearing a 15 kg heavy traditional “hat” during an ancient tradition held in Petrila area between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. According to this tradition, groups of young men are playing the biblical scene of the mags visiting new born Jesus Christ for the inhabitants in the nearby villages. The costumes and the hats they are wearing are manufactured across several years, with costs reaching thousands of dollars.
Participants to a traditional celebration in Parang mountains, near Petrila, are waiting for the food which is being cooked and would be offered freely to about 2,000 people.
A man is playing the accordion during a harvest celebration, a tradition of the ancient agricultural population from Jiului Valley.
Members of a family are attending a celebration for the deceased, which is held each year in the last Saturday of November, in Petrila cemetery. Most of the males buried here have worked in the coal mines in the area, a few hundreds of them dying in accidents over the years.
A worker from the coal preparation station of the Petrila coal mine, during the last days of activity before the mine’s official shut down.
Miners walk at the end of the shift in one of the galleries of Paroseni coal mine. Just going from the elevator to the work station can take as much as one hour of walking through tight, slippery spaces, filled with mud and water, passing by transporters which can grab a miner’s cloths or limbs, with no other lighting source than the individual electric lamp.
Miners are getting to the surface at the end of their last shift in Petrila coal mine, the morning of October 30, 2015, the day the mine has been officially shut down.
Miners are paying their respects to their colleague Iulian, whose body lays on the ground, just recovered from the underground. The night of October 6, 2017, three miners have been trapped in a collapsed gallery of the Lupeni mine, two of them eventually loosing their lives.
Miners from Lupeni coal mine are digging the grave of Iulian, one of their colleagues, killed by a collapsed gallery on October 6, 2017. They blame the lack of investments and corruption for the accident that took the lives of two people on October 6, 2017.
Miners from Lupeni coal mine are taking a lunch break on a tombstone in the Lupeni cemetery, as they dig the grave of Iulian, one of their colleague who has been killed when a gallery collapsed. Lack of investment threatened the underground safety. Miners are blaming the corruption and the lack of spare parts for the accident that took the lives of two people on October 6, 2017.
The funerals of Iulian, a miner killed when a gallery collapsed in Lupeni coal mine on October 6, 2017. Miners blame the lack of investments and the corruption for the accident which took the lives of two people.
Miners from Lonea coal mine are smoking while on a break during a spontaneous protest during which they have barricaded in the underground, in February 2016. The protest sparked because of the incertitude which miners experienced about their jobs and their total lack of trust in the promises of the management. Because of the polluted underground air, many miners require emergency treatment after spending more than 12 hours in the mine.
A miner’s worn vest testifies about the working conditions and the lack of investments in the coal mining industry of Romania.
Photographers and camera men are capturing the image of the “last coal wagon” which marked the official shut down of Petrila coal mine on October 30, 2015. “We haven’t used wagons in years”, said one of the miners. “Last night me and my colleagues prepared this ‘last wagon’ especially for the show today”.
Dan Dumitru, a retired miner, shares a moment of tenderness with his wife Tania, in the living room of their apartment in Petrila during the winter holidays.
Tania Dumitru looks at her step daughter, Karina, daughter of a retired miner, in their apartment in Petrila.
Karina Dumitru shares a moment of tenderness with her father, Dan, on her graduation day from Petrila high school. Tania, Dan’s wife and Karina’s step mother, is away for six months, working on a cruise ship.
Iulia, daughter of a miner, and her boyfriend are hugging in a club in Petrosani, Jiului Valley.
Two months after graduating high school, Karina Dumitru, daughter of a retired miner, works on a night shift in a local store in Petrila, her home town.
A boy is running, following his father who carries a large load of hay in the outskirts of Petrila, Jiului Valley.
Shepherds are milking the sheep in the mountains surrounding the Jiului Valley. Most of them have also worked in a coal mine at some point in their lives.
Two retired miners are resting while picking mushrooms in a forest on the hills which surround Petrila.
Avram, 54, is living in a house he inherited in “Bosnia” neighbourhood of Petrila. “Nobody hires me at my age”, he says. He occasionally works as day labourer, but most of the time lives of social security, which, in his case, amounts the equivalent of $37 a month.
An abandoned mining cart is reflected in a puddle’s glare. A hundred meters below, there lay the galleries of the Lonea coal mine, from Jiului Valley, Romania. A 150 years mining tradition has largely defined the history of the area but is now living its dawn, partially due to the lack of vision and partially due to the Romania’s agreements with the EU.
A cow is marching alone on a country road leading to Petrila coal mine.