A large group of forest rangers has shown up to their colleague Liviu Pop’s funeral. He was murdered by the mafia on the 16th of October when he was patrolling the forest. During the last couple of year,s more than a 100 forest activist and rangers has been assaulted, and 6 have been killed in the fight for preserving the forest. Photo: Jesper Houborg
STILL PICTURE STORY
by Valdemar Stroe Ren and Jesper Houborg – made in the fall 2019 during third term at DMJX.
Illigal logging in Romania, 2019.
Romania is home to the largest virgin forests in Europe, but during the last 30 years, it has been abused fiercely. Ever since the fall of communism, large areas of land were given back to their rightful owners, who started cutting the trees to earn money after many years of poverty. The logging industry evolved, and since the late nineties and up until now, deforestation and illegal logging has been a huge problem in Romania.
Today the mafia controls the industry, and they suppress anyone, who tries to fight against the illegal logging. The local communities in Northern Romania are affected by the conflict around the forest. People live in constant fear of what will happen if they don’t obey the mafia, and yet local activists and forest rangers still risks their lives in the fight for preserving the forest.
According to Greenpeace, the Romanian state loses around € 1.5 billion a year to illegal logging. Each year, 18 million m3 of timber is allowed to fell, but in reality, more than 38 million m3 of timber is felled. Trees exported to the Danish and European market and used by big companies like IKEA and others, leaving the largest virgin forest in Europe out of control to a corrupt and violent industry ruled by the mafia.
A small wood factory in the village Moldovita. The village is located in the northern part of Romania close to the forest. There are about 5000 inhabitants, and almost everyone is somehow involved in the logging industry, whether they want to or not. Photo: Jesper Houborg
Bloodstains from the crime scene near the village of Rogoz. On the 16th of October the local forest ranger, Liviu Pop, was killed by three men in the woods. He had received a call about illegal logging and went out to see it for himself. When he arrived three men assaulted him, drove on him with a horse carriage and then shot him three times with his own weapon. Photo: Jesper Houborg
The mother and wife of Liviu Pop are being comforted by friends and family minutes before they say their final goodbyes. Liviu Pop was only 30 years old, and he leaves a wife and three girls behind him. Over 300 people attended his funeral. Photo: Jesper Houborg
The funeral of the local forest ranger Liviu Pop. Photo: Valdemar Stroe Ren
In the mountains around the town of Borsa in Northern Romania, you’ll see several examples of illegal ‘clear cuts’. Larges areas of forest, that has been completely removed. This is a huge problem for the nearby wildlife, and it also contributes to more floods and mudslides, since the trees hold the water in the earth. Photo: Valdemar Stroe Ren
A working-class area in the town of Borsa. Due to the high level of corruption in Romania, it is only a few people who earn a lot of money in the logging industry. In Borsa almost everyone is somehow associated with the forest, but many people still live under extremely poor conditions despite the fact that they work hard. Photo: Jesper Houborg
Dumitru Bucsa lives in Moldovita with his brother Illie. In the early spring of 2019, they told the authorities in Bucharest about illegal logging in their community. The local mafia found out about it, and on the 27th of May ten guys ambushed Illie and Dumitru, and beat them up in a forest close to their home. Photo: Valdemar Stroe Ren
Dumitri Busca is showing a picture of Illie, that was taken a few hours after they got beat up. Both of them had severe concussions, broken ribs and lots of wounds around their body. They were hospitalised for 9 days. The two brothers are far from the only ones who have been assaulted by the mafia. Photo: Jesper Houborg
A few weeks before the violent assault, the two brothers experienced the mafia’s methods for the first time. In the backyard fish pond, all their fish had been killed with poison. Despite the violence, Illie Busca and his brother are still fighting the illegal logging of the forest. Photo: Jesper Houborg
Traian Iliesi is the mayor in Moldovita. Before he got into politics he owned several wooden factories in town. Today they are owned by his son and nephew, since he can’t be directly involved in the industry while being in politics. He doesn’t acknowledge that illegal logging is taking place in his town, and he insists, that the beatings of activists are lies. Photo: Jesper Houborg
Downtown Moldovita. The village is located in the northern part of Romania close to the forest. There are about 5000 inhabitants, and almost everyone is somehow involved in the logging industry, whether they want to or not. Photo: Jesper Houborg
Tiberiu Subatar (48) is a former owner of an illegal wooden factory in Moldovita. Four years ago he decided to quit his business, and instead fight against the illegal logging. He bought an apartment downtown only to put up cameras outside, so he could monitor every single truck driving in and out of Moldovita. He made it a full-time job to fight logging and corruption, and he checks his surveillance on a daily basis to see if there has been any illegal transports to report about. Photo: Valdemar Stroe Ren
Tiberiu’s surveillance outside his apartment. HE has three cameras on this side of the road, and two on the other. Photo: Valdemar Stroe Ren
In the mountains around the town of Borsa in Northern Romania, you’ll see several examples of illegal ‘clear cuts’. Larges areas of forest, that has been completely removed. This is a huge problem for the nearby wildlife, and it also contributes to more floods and mudslides, since the trees hold the water in the earth. Photo: Jesper Houborg
Dan Barna is running for president in Romania. During his campaign he visited Moldovita to see illegal cuttings himself. There was a huge press caravan following him from Bucharest, but when they arrived, the local mafia had blocked the entrance to the forest, and Barna had to do his interviews outside the forest, and return home to Bucharest without seeing any of the illegal cuts. Photo: Valdemar Stroe Ren
The two local activists, family father Cornell Mortogan and his friend Giorgio, inspect the forest around Moldovita for illegally cut trees. Often healthy trees are felled illegally instead of the marked diseased trees. Photo: Jesper Houborg
The local activists and brothers Cornell and Costel Mortogan are out in the forest nearby Moldovita to look for areas with illegal cuttings. A well-known method the mafia uses to hide their crime is to throw the roots of the tree into rivers deep down in the forest. That way, it is not possible to see, that a tree has been removed. These areas are called ‘Wooden Graveyards’, and they are seen in several forests. “When I was small I saw trees the size of temples. Almost 40 meters high. You don’t see that anymore. I wan’t my children to grow up in a forest, not a desert. That’s why we fight against illegal logging”, says Cornell Mortogan. Photo: Jesper Houborg.
A truck is driving down the mountainside close to the town of Borsa. The trucks have official papers on how much wood they are allowed to bring from the forest, but many of them do not comply with this. They either bring twice as much as allowed, or use the same paper twice to be able to cut more wood. According to Greenpeace, the Romanian state loses around 1.5 billion Euros a year to illegal logging. Photo: Valdemar Stroe Ren
Giorgio is a local farmer in Moldovita. When he’s not taking care of his agricultural business, he patrols around the forest to report about new areas of illegal cutting. He says, that the illegal logging is the number one catastrophe in Romania, and one of the main reasons for the high level of corruption the country is experiencing. Photo: Valdemar Stroe Ren
Jesper Houborg won second prize in the category “Foreign Picture Story” at the Danish Picture of Year 2019 for a series of his pictures from this story.