Case Studies - Commons -Romania

The Commons of the Former Border Guardians in Banat (Comunitatea de Avere)

 

Type of institution for collective action

Commons (Commoners' Association)

Name/description institution  

Comunitatea de Avere

Country 

Romania

Region

Caransebeş, Southwestern Romania

Name of city or specified area 

Caransebeş

Further specification location (e.g. borough, street etc.)

-

Surface area and boundaries

251,919 iugăre (equals c.125,000 hectares of forest, meadows and pastures)

Foundation/start of institution, date or year

1879

Foundation year: is this year the confirmed year of founding or is this the year this institution is first mentioned?

Confirmed year of founding.

Foundation act present?

Yes.

Description of Act of foundation

In December 1879, 94 communes from the Banat region (Southwestern Romania) decided that the forest and pastures that were bought from the Austrian-Hungarian Empire were not to be divided but to be administrated in common.

Year of termination of institution

Still in use for some parts of the commons.

Year of termination: estimated or confirmed?

N/a.

Act regarding termination present?

 

N/a.

Description Act of termination

N/a.

Reason for termination?

N/a.

Recognized by local government?

Yes, the local government recognizes the association.

Concise history of institution

General    

At the end of the eighteenth century, in the context of establishing the border between the Austrian Empire and the Ottoman Empire in the region currently called Banat (Southwestern Romania), several communities of peasants were transformed to border guardians. These communities of peasant-soldiers proved to be successful in other parts of the Ottoman- Austrian Empire (for instance in Transylvania). In 1774 there were 71 villages and 7,600 militarized households in this area (Rosu 2010). The communes were led by the association of old people, but the military supreme authority belonged to a commander, assisted by a commission of specialists. After the dissolution of the Border Guardians (in the second part of the nineteenth century) the Austro-Hungarian Empire decided that the forest, the pastures, the meadows, and the buildings that were solely administrated by the communities of peasant-soldiers were to be bought by them. The former Border Guardians bought the natural resources and buildings they had administrated so far and decided to continue the collective administration. This type of collective association was called “Comunitate de Avere” (literally Community of Fortune, in Romanian). This form of collective ownership lasted until the communist regime nationalized both the natural resources and the buildings. After the socialist regime broke down, at first only the buildings were restituted to the association, the forest not yet. Currently however, the forest, pastures and meadows have been restituted to most villages, be it only on paper  (see some of the links affiliated to this study).

 

"Community of Fortune”

On December 24, 1879, a Community of Fortune (an association of the former Romanian villagers who had served as Border Guardians of the Austrian Empire) was established. In 1872, the Regiments of Border Guardians were watching the border between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman border; in total, they watched the border for 98 years. In order to make it more appealing for peasants living on the border to become soldiers, the Austrian authorities legislated that peasant-soldiers could (1) use the imperial forests from the region to harvest wood, non-timber forest resources, and to use pasture for household necessities, (2) to harvest the timber required for their communal buildings, (3) to graze animals on the pastures and meadows from the region, and (4) to cultivate grains and to grow orchards or vineyards on the territories near their villages.

 

When the Regiments were dismissed, the Austro-Hungarian authorities decided to allow former soldiers to buy the imperial forests and mountains that they used to exploit. In order to administrate this territory a Comunitate de Avere (Community of Fortune) was founded. This structure was composed of people elected by the members from the 94 communities and consisted of a president, an executive committee and a General Assembly of all members living within those communities. Members of the committee were elected for a term of six years. The forest exploitation activities were conducted by forest experts. The association also had accountants. All the rules the association had to respect were stipulated by the Austrian Civil Code. The committee had to establish a plan of forest exploitation which was approved by the General Assembly. Only after the members of association had obtained the necessary quantity of wood the committee could approve the selling of forest products on the “free market”.  

           

In 1918, Transylvania and Banat became part of the Romanian government. Thus, in 1925, a new Regulation and a new Status of the Association was voted. The association was now entitled to provide social assistance to its members, to provide scholarships for children coming from poor families of the association, to build schools and a student dormitory, and also to establish small factories to exploit the association’s forest.

 

In 1935, the association, against the will of its members, was considered a co-operative. Thus, the Romanian state had the right to interfere in the association business. This provision of the law aggravated in 1938 with even more interference (including political) in the association’s business.

 

The association has been dissolved during the communist regime and all its goods became property of the state. After 1989, members of the association and their heirs have struggled to regain possession of the natural resources and the buildings they once owned. Only after 2008 some communities obtained in court the right to receive back their land, forests, and pastures, but until now they have not gained the actual possession of these goods.

Special events? Highs and lows? Specific problems or problematic periods?

  • 1879: Foundation of the Community.
  • 1889: Three communes tried to pull back from the association .
  • 1894: The disciplinary Statutes have been voted (provisioning the punishment for those breaking the rules of the association).
  • 1910: The Regulation concerning the exploitation and selling of the forest products by the association has been voted.
  • 1918: The region of Banat became part of the Romanian state.
  • 1925: A new Regulation was voted. 
  • 1935: The association status was regarded by the state to be equal to the status of co-operatives, which allowed the state to interfere in the association business.

 

Highs: the association contributed to the building of schools, created a feeling of belonging, practiced a sustainable exploitation of forest, meadows, and pastures. It created a good standard of living and assured social security for the members of the community. It also contributed to boosting the local economy.

 

Lows: encroachment of the natural resources of the association by the neighboring communities; sometimes the association did not receive the money they suppose to receive from leasing different activities (such as forest exploitation).

Membership

Numbers of members (specified)

120,000 members in the Interbellum.

Membership attainable for every one, regardless of social class or family background?

Only the former Guardians of the Border, their families and their heirs could become members.

Specific conditions for obtaining membership? (Entrance fee, special tests etc.)

None specified. See also above.

Specific reasons regarding banning members from the institution?

Yes: serious felonies against the Association’s goods could result in banning members.

Advantages of membership?

Participation in decision-making, access to forest and forest products, access to pastures, a sustainable forest exploitation.

Obligations of members? 

To respect the regulation of the Association.

Literature on case study

  • Chiburte, L., 2010. Social Practices and Access to Forest – Mayors, Patrons, and Property in Postsocialist Romania [Practici sociale de accesare a pădurilor - Primari, patroni si proprietate în România post-socialistă]. BA Dissertation, University of Bucharest.
  • Roşu, O.L., 2010. The Commons of the Former Regiment of Border Guardians from Banat Region [Comunitatea de Avere a fostului Regiment Grăniceresc româno-bănăţean Nr. 13 din Caransebeş 1879-1948]. Caransebeş : Editura Muzeul Banatului Montan.

Sources on case study

  • The Archival Fund of the City of Caransebeş Mayoralty [Fondul primariei oraşului Caransebeş ]
  • The Archival Fund of the Community of Fortune [Fondul Comunitatea de Avere Caransebeş]
  • The Archival Fund of the Local Department of Forest Rusca Montană [Fondul Ocolului Silvic C.A.P.S. Rusca Montană]
  • The Regulations of the Community of Fortune

Links to further information on case study:

Case study composed by

Dr. Stefan Dorondel, Francisc I. Rainer Institute of Anthropology Bucharest, Institute for Southeastern European Studies, Bucharest