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Vasile, Monica (2019): Fiefdom forests: Authoritarianism, labor vulnerability and the limits of resistance in the Carpathian Mountains. In: Geoforum, Vol. 106: pp. 155-166
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Abstract

This article examines the transformations of the contemporary postsocialist forests of the Romanian Carpathian Mountains, focusing on contentious resource politics in the context of new dynamics of forest commodification. I argue that in the last decades the political forests of the Carpathians emerged as fiefdom forests, territories of intense domestic extraction driven by patron-client relations, which are marked by provincial authoritarianism, labor vulnerability and limited freedom. Drawing on insights from long-term anthropological research, this article sheds light on the contours of coercive power relations in extractive territories, revealing the entanglements between politics and forests in the realm of a shadow state. Local timber economies go from boom to bust, exhausting the environment. Local voices of dissent can barely be heard, resistors suffering repression and incorporation. Fought through a legal-political repertoire and predicated upon rights to commons and distributional justice, the resistance is tangled in politics of evidence driven by corrupt institutions and biased judiciary systems. Throughout the paper, the story of the fiefdom forests follows three main threads: (1) the rise of an elite group of timber barons, local entrepreneurs, loggers and foresters who control the forests, and accumulate power and capital, connected to the rise of authoritarian polities;(2) the experiences of small forest operators and workers, their vulnerabilities and dependency upon forest jobs, ridden with repression and violence;(3) the makeshift roads of local resistance and political struggle, revealing the limits of freedom and the internal divisions of community. The article contributes to recent scholarship that links resource extraction, authoritarianism and rural resistance.