GREEN GOLD / The forests of Transylvania have become a deadly battlefield with mafia methods and bestial murders of several forest bailiffs. 650 foresters and activists have been assaulted. And in the midst of the power struggle over the Romanian forests stands the furniture giant IKEA.


CLUJ-NAPOCA – The shots rang in Mara Mure-skoven that October evening, and they reverberated throughout Romania. family Father Liviu Pop, a 30-year-old local forest officer, had been overpowered and shot with his own rifle as he tried to prevent a criminal gang from felling a protected forest area. Just the month before was another forest bailiff, the 50-year-old Raducu Gorcioia, also the father of three, was chopped to death with an ax after he surprised a group of three thieves further east.

The bestial murders of innocent forest forests in the fall are the preliminary culmination of a conflict that – unlike forest land – has grown larger and larger. The causes of the conflict are money and power, and the Romanian trees are like gold and green forests for Romanian mafia groups and corrupt companies that run illegal logging and sell the timber to the highest bidder across Europe.

And in the middle of it all, surrounded by the criminal mafiaconflict in Romania's forests, operates a worldwide company, IKEA. The Swedish furniture giant relies on cheap logging. Every year produces IKEA about 100 million affordable furniture sold worldwide.

Loggers. Photographer DanialOpait, Agent Green
The loggers. Photographer Danial Opait, Agent Green

The Swedes' presence in Romania began in 2015, when the company entered into a rather conspicuous trade. IKEA's subsidiary Ingka Investments bought 33.000 hectares of forest land in Romania, previously owned by US Harvard University, and the deal was conducted through a shady fund in Luxembourg with links to the university. According to the Huffington Post media, IKEA paid more than NOK 550 million for 98 percent of the forest land owned by Harvard. It was IKEA's largest investment in pristine forest to date.

Together, IKEA has purchased more than 50 hectares of forest land in the country, making the Swedish furniture chain the largest private landowner in Romania.

The green lungs of Europe

The forests of the north Transylvania is called "the green lungs of Europe" and covers most of the Carpathian mountain range. It is the largest contiguous forest area in Europe and nearly a third of Romania is covered with trees. This makes Romania the European country outside Scandinavia, which has the most original and pristine forest.

IKEA is the largest private landowner in Romania.

But in recent years, the area has developed into a deadly battlefield between corrupt politicians and criminal loggers on the one hand – and on the other, brave environmental activists. Their goal is to protect one of the world's oldest ecosystems so that bears, wolves and other wildlife can live their lives in the Romanian forest floor in the future. And then there are the forest stewards, who are really just doing their jobs, but who have had to pay the highest price of them all on several occasions.

In addition to Liviu Pop and Raducu Gorcioia four other forest bailiffs have been killed since 2017, each as victims of the escalating violence in the forest. In the same period, another 650 forestry and activists have been assaulted, pepper-sprayed, axes or knives and even shot at when they come across to take the villains into their offenses. This is stated in a statement from the trade union Romsilva.

But a billion euros

One of those who, with life as an effort, continues to struggle to protect the climate and change the situation in the Maramure forest, is activist Gabriel Paun from the environmental organization Agent Green. He wears a hoodie so he can quickly hide his face if violent loggers spot him. And he never goes out into the woods alone. Last time it was close to going wrong: "I followed in the heels of an illegal tree truck, and when I confronted the driver with his crime, he sprayed pepper spray in my eyes," Gabriel Paun tells of a recent episode in the Maramureoven forest , located a few hours drive north of the Transylvanian capital, Cluj-Napoca.

Skovhuggerne. Photographer Peter Levente, Agent Green

The activist thinks the current legislation is too complicated to stop the crime: «The authorities are corrupt and the Ministry of the Environment is too cautious to solve the problem. It's the mafia that controls it all, "he says.

Each year, the Romanian authorities officially authorize felling between 18 and 19 million cubic meters of wood. But in reality, more than twice as much is being felled. Thus, the illegal forestry today is greater than the legal one. And although the illegal portion is exported for a fraction of the official market price, the "lumber mafia" probably doesn't go to bed: According to a report by the investigative media Romanian Insider, the illegal deforestation has a billion euros turnover in the black market – or about one-fifth of total turnover in the country's timber industry.

IKEA on a picnic

Especially Romania EU medlemskab in 2007 has made the timber trade a worthwhile billion business, also in the legal part of the market. EU membership caused the demand for timber from the Romanian forests to rise dramatically. It has created a competitive, commercial market where Romanian timber is used to make paper, building materials and furniture for companies from countries such as Austria, France and Sweden.

These include IKEA, which, according to reports from the European excavator network OCCRP, has on two occasions even been raised in court for its purchases, after it emerged that parts of the forest land actually belonged to some others.

“It takes a moment to destroy an untouched ecosystem, but a thousand years to recover

Elin Götmark is spokeswoman for Protect the Forest, a Swedish NGO, and she wonders about IKEA's presence in Romania: «We wonder if a global player like IKEA thinks it is responsible to do business in countries where foresters are murdered and where illegal logging takes place in priceless, ancient forests and national parks», she says.

We pass the question on to IKEA's Nordic Head of Communications, Christian Mouroux Pedersen. He emphasizes that IKEA works to the highest possible standards when it comes to responsible and sustainable forestry: «We really do not think it would be particularly responsible to pull all our activities out of Romania simply because the country has, in general, examples of corruption, which by the way, IKEA has nothing to do with it, ”says Christian Mouroux Pedersen.

Protests against deforestation. Photo Lasse Sagittarius
Protests against deforestation. Photo Lasse Sagittarius

The Head of Communications admits that it is deeply tragic that several people have lost their lives in forestry: “But in all modesty, we actually believe that as a global, responsible company with our presence, we can help move things in a positive direction. , as we create jobs that live up to certified standards, "says Christian Mouroux Pedersen, adding that IKEA works closely with, among others, the World Natural Fund and third-party auditors to ensure that standards are developed and met.

Financial penalties

In February, the illegal part of the conflict then emerged at EU level as the European Commission initiated a procedure that could end up penalizing Romania for selling illegal timber on the European market. The Commission is now demanding that the Romanian government properly control what is going on in the country's forests. Otherwise, financial penalties will suffer.

Romania is the European country outside Scandinavia, which has the most original and
pristine forest.

In the Transylvanian city Miercurea Ciuc sits environmental consultant Csibi Magor from the World Vision Romania organization. He has a past as a liberal EU parliamentarian and country manager for the World Natural Fund in Romania.

Csibi Magor points out that Romania, like many other eastern countries, is currently battling with air pollution in cities as well as floods and landslides.

“All this we can reduce if we preserve our living forests. It takes a moment to destroy an untouched ecosystem, but a thousand years to recover it. ”

Subscription NOK 195 quarter