The obște (pl. obști) was an autonomous agricultural community of the Romanians/Vlachs during the Middle Ages. Mixing private and common ownership, the communities generally employed an open field system. The obști were usually based on one or more extended families. This system of organization was similar throughout the Vlach-inhabited areas and it generally receded as overlords assumed more power over the rural communities and as the peasants lost their freedom by becoming serfs. [a condition of bondage]
The word obște is of Slavic origin, its original meaning being “common”, referring to the common ownership and usage of the fields. Nevertheless, the organization system is assumed to predate the Slavic contact, previously the word for community being cătun (cognate with Albanian katund), a word that changed its meaning in modern Romanian into “hamlet” or “mountain village”.
The villages, autonomous and lacking a political superstructure, employed their own defense system: the very words for village in Romanian (sat, archaic fsat) and Albanian (fshat) are derived from the Latin word fossatum, meaning “a ditch used for fortifications”.
Most villages were not ancient, but they were founded and discarded during successive colonization steps. As extensive farming was used, the areas with depleted soil were abandoned for new land, often obtained through deforestation. Sometimes, they were divided into more groups, each looking to found its own obște on fertile land, something known as the ..
“swarming of the obști” (roirea obștilor).
The villagers in an obște were often the descendants of the founder (or sometimes, founders) of the village, which was known as moș (“forefather”). By the 16th century, in Wallachia, each extended family (moșneni, people with a common forefather) had its own tracts of land which they used in common.
The obști had their own common law system, known in Romanian as obiceiul pământului (“custom of the land”), an unwritten law system which set rules for the relations between the villagers, including the rules for the usage of the land. The obști had judicial powers on their members, the elders of the village being the judges.
Whereas some historians such as Ioan C. Filitti argued that the obști were an exceptional way of organization and a recent development, Nicolae Iorga argued that the obște was one of the most ancient institutions of the Romanian peasant, being prior to the founding of the medieval Romanian states.
Some historians such as P. P. Panaitescu argued that its origin can be found in the organization of the Dacian settlements, which was revived following the Roman retreat. As arguments for its origin being previous to the Slavic contact are given words such as gint (pl. ginture) which was a term of Latin origin (from gens/gentilis) to refer to a community formed by an extended family.
Similar systems of organizations were found among the Slavs and Germans. In the region, it was found among the East Slavs, where it was known as obshchina or mir, the West Slavs where it was known as opole and the Serbs, where it was known as okolina.
As the feudal states were created, the obști were affected by the system of princely decrees, which gave land (danii) to a newly created nobility. This led to a gradual disappearance of the common ownership of land, transforming the free peasants into serfs. The feudal system, which was already formed by the 15th century, did not destroy the obști, but a greater number of obști became serf obști: while the Hospodar or the boyars owned the whole villages, they kept their internal organization.
intro’d to the term while reading a p2pfoundation post on common ing..
jan 2017 – patterns of commoning.. role of memory and id in the forest commons of romania:
By Monica Vasile: In the Vrancea Mountains of Romania, the Eastern Carpathians, people in dozens of villages have used community-based institutions known as obștea to manage forest commons since the sixteenth century.1 The original sense of the word, coming from Slavonic, is “togetherness,” and it underlines the participatory essence of the institution. The traditions of obștea are so deeply rooted among Vrâncean villagers that the forest is not regarded simply as a resource; it is a powerful source of collective identity, social practice and pride that has near-mythological resonances. The effectiveness of obștea as a customary institution, however, has been profoundly affected by the rise of extractive technologies, the fifty-year reign of communism (1948-1989), and by the surge of modern markets. Through it all, people have cherished their affective relationship with their forests and the obștea form of forest management.
The institution of obștea was not founded at a precise moment or as a contractual organization. Legend tells us that in the sixteenth century Stephen the Great endowed the founders of seven villages for their military merits with communal ownership of the Vrancea Mountain
Initially, the whole region owned the entire mountain area (Stahl 1958) in devalmașie. The first division of the land among villages occurred in 1755, followed by another five divisions until the last one in 1840. The divisions were made to meet the pasturing needs of each village and to resolve a political conflict.2 By the end of the nineteenth century, villagers’ access to their forests became more and more restricted as exploitation technologies improved and wood became a valuable commodity associated with money, and social status. During this period, several powerful foreign forestry companies, especially from Austria and Italy, struck deals with local elites for leasing and exploiting large areas of forest. In several villages, with the money yield, the old elites worked for the best of the community, building schools, village halls and communal baths. In others, the locals’ collective memory remembers elites who deceived people to sell their use rights, often for a pack of cigarettes. The foreign companies ended their activity in Vrancea by the beginning of the First World War, after committing massive deforestation.
The law required villagers to obtain vouchers from a local committee (without payment) to harvest lumber, as well as certificates to transport it. These regulations were mostly seen as *unnecessary formalities and were not strictly followed at the time.
*unnecessary .. of course.. but we keep things like that in our history books… to say.. even the common ers common ing.. had vouchers/measures of transactions..
The obștea might have slowly transformed from a socially embedded institution into a modern organizational form except that, in 1948, the Communist Party came to power and the state seized all communal forest property. In the 1950s there were a number of serious fights in Vrancea between villagers belonging to the Anticommunist Resistance Movement, and communist authorities. Several people were killed, and some were imprisoned. These events, along with an outmigration of educated people from rural areas, *led to a loss of capable local elites. Many obștea traditions were lost or receded.
I found in my study of forest usage during the communist period that “having” and “owning” were not very important. More important was access and use, which were facilitated in many ways, both legal and illegal, usually involving state officials and corrupt practices.
Collective property rights were re-established only in 2000. Meanwhile, local businesses involved with timber extraction flourished. These new businesses did not contribute to local economic development; they offered mostly black market, and low-wage jobs, but they played an influential role in the evolution of obștea institutions because many of them, in flagrant conflicts-of-interest, also served as decision makers.
Nowadays, twenty nine obștea institutions continue to function in Vrancea, managing around 65,000 hectares of forest. Each village owns between 1,500 and 14,000 hectares for a population that may range from 800 to 5,000. The restoration process stipulated that the obștea institutions should follow the model of the old organizational structures and that each obștea has the right to modify their statutory norms, according to local situations, with the agreement of the village assembly.
A fundamental characteristic is the equal participation of every individual. But the individual does not hold any measurable right or own a precise plot; the only entitlement is the “right to be a member.” Membership includes the right to vote in the village assembly and to receive an annual quota of wood, which changes according to assembly-based decisions about individual shares. An executive committee, ruled by a president, together with the village assembly, manages each common forest. Villagers elect the committee and the president by a secret democratic vote. The committee handles all administrative operations, including organizing the village assemblies, auctions for selling timber, and distributing annual shares of wood to commoners. *The participatory framework is excellent in principle, but in practice there are problems with poor attendance at assemblies, fears about the integrity of vote-counting, conflicts of interest, and a limited pool of capable councilors.
*of course.. public consensus always oppresses someone(s)
so this story is so fractal ish of the rest of the world.. it’s not an ie of common ing..
The legend of the commons’ origins stands as a source of legitimacy for present-day property arrangements. This “once upon a time story” is widely remembered and frequently repeated, with the forest perceived as a “legacy from Stephen the Great.” It amounts to a kind of emotional capital that villagers in the Vrancea Mountains draw upon to reassert their collective local identity and history. The symbolic and affective dimension of property, as managed by obștea, is thus reinforced. Most locals cannot conceive the idea of dividing up their forests because it would violate “the old way.” Some people see the rights to use the mountains as a compensation for the vrânceni (as people there are called) for not having access to the prosperous, arable land of the plains. Collective property is seen as a simple historical fact – a given. Even though the quality and quantity of the allotted forest land varies from one village to the next, the initial act appears as indubitable: “This is the way Stephen gave it to us!”
still .. sounds more like pride.. than common ing
, from the survey I conducted in 2005-2006,3 42.2 percent say that feel “a lot” like proprietors of the commons. Another 32.7 percent consider themselves proprietors “to some extent” and 24.1 percent “not at all.”
ie: 24 % .. so not common ing..
Feelings of deprivation and injustice arise when ob?tea is perceived through the lens of its ruling structure, as a group of “corrupt opportunists.” Eighty-nine percent of respondents in my survey perceive that ob?tea, understood as its managing committee, does nothing or too little for the communities.
Part of the problem is that the legal framework of commons is not clear or detailed on many matters. Another problem is that there are no local *mechanisms to resolve conflicts in low-cost ways.
no means for any of us.. to redefine decision making.. et al.. until now.. ie: *mech simple enough.. to facil whimsy/curiosity for all of us (has to be 100% of us).. (rather than resolving conflicts in low cost ways.. gershenfeld sel makes that irrelevant.. no consensus needed et al).. now there’s a nother way..
despite these challenges, I have found in my studies of Vrâncean villages that there is a remarkably strong support for ob?teaas an institution of collective identity and purpose. Managing the forest is not all about calculations, performance, material value and revenues. It is also about affective relationships and symbolic meaning as reflected in *collective memory, tradition and identity. These affective dimensions keep people interested in and involved in the processes related to their forest property even if the external forces of the state, market and local officials may work in other directions.