Where Your Gold Comes From: the Story of an Exploited Town in Bulgaria

The Bulgarian government says gold mining will bring jobs and wealth to the impoverished town of Krumovgrad. But local residents fear the project might pollute their real treasure: water.

KRUMOVGRAD, Bulgaria -- In 2005 when Dundee Precious Metals, a Canadian mining company, announced the discovery of a large gold deposit near the town of Krumovgrad in the Rhodope Mountains of southeast Bulgaria, nobody was surprised. The Rhodopes had once been the home of Thracian tribes, consummate goldsmiths of the Ancient World, who had extracted the metal from the slopes and streams. Dundee's plans, however, were more elaborate and much less romantic: an open-pit gold mine operation, generating millions of tons of waste in the process.

Most of the Krumovgrad community has come out strongly against the project. Though the region is economically depressed, it is traditional industries like agriculture and animal husbandry that provide hope for sustainable development. Residents understand that the gold mine, though it may offer some temporary employment, threatens to destroy their most precious resources: water and soil. In the words of one of the locals, "Our real treasure is not gold, but water."

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Dimiter Kenarov is a freelance journalist based in Sofia, Bulgaria, and a contributing editor at The Virginia Quarterly Review. His work has been anthologized in The Best American Travel Writing.

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