Case Studies - Commons - Romania

Pădurea de Obşte   


Type of institution for collective action

Common (Common forest)

Name/description institution  





Vrancea County, Moldavia, Romania

Name of city or specified area 

Ţara Vrancei

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


Surface area and boundaries

70,000 hectares for the whole Vrancea County; the common forests sizes range from 800 to 14,000 hectares.

Foundation/start of institution, date or year

Probably dating back to Middle Ages, see beneath.

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

Oral history in the region has it that most of the common forests were received in medieval times from the Kings of Moldova. There is no written proof to be found.

Foundation act present?

No, see above.

Description of Act of foundation


Year of termination of institution

Still existing.

Year of termination: estimated or confirmed?


Act regarding termination present?


Description Act of termination


Reason for termination?


Recognized by local government?

Yes, the local government recognizes this institution.

Concise history of institution


The region of the described institution is the County of Vrancea (Ţara Vrancei). Dimitrie Cantemir, an eighteenth-century Moldavian king and writer, member of the German Academy, pointed out in his work The Description of Moldova Descriptio Moldaviae) the large autonomy of the villages constituting this area, a real 'peasant’s republic' as he coined it. The large autonomy (vis-à-vis the noblemen and the King of Moldavia) was based on common property over natural resources (agricultural land, forest, pastures). Until the seventeenth century, communities from this area also worked the agricultural land in common. There was a permanent struggle between the villages owning commons and the ruling class called boieri (boyar, noblemen). Most of the regions, where there was a similar institution (Obşte), failed to defend their commons but Vrancea succeeded to defend it. From the late nineteenth century on, timber became highly valued merchandise due to the development of the construction and the furniture sectors, while the wood was used in the steel industry (Stahl 1998). The new economic developments put also an immense pressure on the common forests which became targeted by the large international wood enterprises. This pressure brought the common forest into decline.


Institution: Obşte

Obşte is a community-based association which commonly owns forests and pastures. The word is of Slavonic origin and it means several things: 'togetherness', 'a village', but it is also used as “owning something commonly”. The members of the Obşte held the right to use the forest collectively. It meant that no member of Obşte owned a certain plot of forest. As a juridical institution, it was run by an executive committee of five to seven people and a president, all of them elected by vote by the ordinary members of the Obşte. As an institution, it has medieval roots (at that time the Obşte was run by the 'old and good people': several old and wise members of the village). Some authors (Panaitescu 1964) claim that the concept of  Obşte could even be older, dating back to the period of the Daco-Geti (the population that inhabited more or less the actual territory of Romania before the Roman Empire conquest). 


There are two types of Obşte. The first one is of an egalitarian type. That is, all members of the Obşte had the same amount of  'rights'. It meant that all members of a village were members of the Obşte ('one man, one share, one vote'). For this type of Obşte, every member received three cubic meters of fuel wood per year and three cubic meters for construction needs. This type of Obşte had one president, a council, and a book keeper. This institution was managed in a participatory way (Mantescu and Vasile 2009, 102).


The other type is a non-equalitarian Obşte: only some of the village members are also members of the Obşte. The membership was based on inheritance (the membership being inherited from parents). The voting of the members of this type of Obşte went in accordance with the division of  of shares: the amount of votes was determined by the amount of shares a member had within the Obşte. The gains of the Obşte are also shared by the members of the Obşte in accordance with the number of shares a member had.


Until 1910, when the first Forestry Code was voted, the Obşte functioned on a basis of customary law rather then following state law. Only after 1910 the customary law was officially recognized by the Romanian state. This was also the moment most Obştea became institutionalized, functioning as a private association and having a printed and official statute settling the rules for the functioning of this institution.


In 1948, the communist government nationalized the forests and dismantled all Obştea. Through Law 1/2000 the common forests were restituted to the communities. The Obşte subsequently was re-instated as an institution in the years following the changes from 1990 on. 

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

  • 1910: The first Forestry Code was passed by the Parliament of Romania, the customary laws becoming officially recognized by the state.
  • 1948: Nationalization of forests and the dissolution of Obştea.
  • 2000: Restitution of common forests through Law 1.


Highs: Money from Obstea was used to improve the community’s life (repairing roads, schools, churches). An egalitarian access to forest (for the period before socialist regime), a relatively sustainable exploitation of forest, pastures and non-timber forest products. 


Lows: Sometimes, allegations of money pocketing. Depending on the type of Obşte, some members having more shares  than others gained more then their peer members.


Specific problems: Allegations of corruption against the presidents of the Obştea and the executive committee, pocketing money, depletion of forest, especially in the postsocialist period, after the common forest restitution and the revival of Obştea as an institution.


Numbers of members (specified)

For each community between 1,000 to 3,000 members of Obşte.

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

Membership was either based on inheritance (villagers whose ancestors were members of the Obstea) or on residence.

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

None mentioned, see also above.

Specific reasons regarding banning members from the institution?

None mentioned. 

Advantages of membership?

Participation in decision-making, access to forest according to the number of drepturi.

Obligations of members? 

To respect the regulation of Obstea.

Literature on case study

  • Mantescu, L., 2009. When globalization meets postsocialism. Community-based institutions for mananging forest commons and the internationalization of timber market in Romania. Paper presented at a Seminar at the Faculty of Economics, University of Navarra.  PDF-version available here.
  • Mantescu, L., and Vasile, M., 2009. Property Reforms in Rural Romania and Community-Based Forests. Sociologie Românească5 (2), pp. 95-113.
  • Panaitescu, P. P., 1964. The Peasant Obştea in Wallachia and Moldavia during the Middle Ages [Obştea ţărănească în Țara Românească şi Moldova. Orânduirea feudală]. Bucharest: Editura Academiei R.S.R.
  • Stahl, H. H., 1998 [1958]. Contributions To the Study of the Commons in Romanian Villages[Contribuţii la studiul satelor devălmaşe româneşti]. Bucharest: Editura Academiei.
  • Vasile, M., 2008. Meanings without forms. The "obste" in Vrancea. Statutory and customary processes in the dynamics of defining a system of collective ownership [Un fond fără formă obştea vrânceană. Statutar şi cutumiar în dinamica definirii unui sistem de proprietate colectivă]. Sociologie Românească, 6 (1), pp. 56-73.

Sources on case study


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