From Russia to Colombia, the villages destroyed by Britain’s coal addiction

Anne Harris reports on the people being made homeless because of mining to feed the UK's coal-fired power stations

February 29, 2016
6 min read

Rocks fall from the sky and dust coats houses, gardens and streams. Homes crack, sacred sites are destroyed and the wildlife is driven away.

This was the reality for the residents of Kazas, a village of predominantly indigenous Shor people living in the shadow of enormous open-cast coal mines deep in the Keremovo Oblast, Siberia. The Kemerovo Oblast is Russia’s biggest coal mining region for coal to export and the main region where indigenous Shor and Teleut people live. Kazas was destroyed in 2013.

For the Shor people ‘assimilation, loss of language and traditions became overwhelming’, say three NGOs working with indigenous communities. At least eight other similar villages have met the same fate. The Russian government has repressive laws which have targeted groups active in supporting the indigenous people’s battle with the extractives industry.

The UK imports more coal from Russia than any other country and is the second largest market for Russia’s coal, after China. Our electricity demand causes their suffering.

Infographic: Coal Action Network

Ditch Coal, a new report from the Coal Action Network, describes the situations in the three countries which combined supply 95 per cent of the coal imported to the UK. These countries are Russia, Colombia and the USA with 43 per cent, 33 per cent and 19 per cent of the coal imported to the UK respectively.

There are still 12 power stations burning coal, but the fuel is no longer the leading producer of energy in the UK. The government has announced that it intends to close the remaining coal power stations by 2025. But for communities on the front-lines the realities of coal mining this is too long and without legislation to enforce action, meaningless.

Forced out in Russia

Back in Kazas, mining companies wanted the village and its inhabitants gone so that they could extract the rich coal seams underneath. Checkpoints controlled the village, restricting movement. The spirituality of the Shor people has been totally disregarded, with the sacred Karagay-nash mountain being desecrated and destroyed by mining.

Life in Kazas was made unbearable for the residents and when most agreed to move, the companies claimed that they did so voluntarily. The anger of those living there showed they felt that they had reached the end of the line and had no options.

For those who didn’t consent to leave, the situation became more threatening. The director of a subsidiary of Sibuglemet said, ‘If they don’t sell their houses and estates to Yuzhnaya, then the houses might burn down.’ Sibuglemet supplies coal to the UK.

Within a month of threats being made arson attacks began on the houses of the families who had refused to leave. The crimes have never been investigated.

Houses in Kazas being bulldozed after suspiciously-timed arson attacks. Photo: RAIPON

Land given to villagers as a substitute is by all accounts unviable, and in worse condition than the land that they were forced to leave had become. No land has been assigned for their traditional subsistence activities, hunting and fishing. Villagers have not received compensation that would enable them to rebuild their houses and most do not have any savings left that would allow them to rebuild themselves. These rural peoples have been dispersed to urban areas.

‘Company killers’ in Colombia

‘The companies talk about voluntary displacement, but it is forced displacement,’ says Nubia Maria Florian Ditta. ‘We are worried. We are fighting to get land titles for our collective land. This will help us protect our ecosystem as they push to expand the mine.’ Ditta is a member of Las Cruces Community Council, and their village is threatened by the expansion of a coal mine worked by an American company Drummond, which supplies the UK.

In addition to forced relocation, companies exporting coal from Colombia to the UK have been allegedly implicated in financing paramilitary mass murders, executions, and disappearances.

Hernando Figueroa Pallares has evidence of Drummond dumping 500 tonnes of coal at sea after problems with a barge transferring coal to an international ship. He planned to go to the authorities about the incident, but before he did an assassin came after him, thought to have been sent by the company.

As Hernando describes it, ‘He was in the entrance of my house with a gun in his hand… He came out in to the yard but he didn’t see me because it was dark. He had the gun ready. I thought if I leg it he is going to kill my wife, so I decide to see what God’s will is. Without my shirt on, I shout and run at him. The first bullet enters me in the lung.’ Hernando was lucky to survive, though he still lives in hiding. Many others have been killed in similar incidents.

Ditch coal

Imported coal is not the only problem. Around 31 per cent of coal burned in the UK is still produced in the UK. In Britain the main coal mining issues include a planning system biased towards companies in preference to community needs, noise, dust and traffic, as well as sites being abandoned without restoration (in Scotland there are thought to be 20 unrestored sites).

Wherever there are coal proposals in the UK there are communities fighting applications. Since the announcement of an intended coal phase-out, County Durham residents had the shocking news that a mine application by Hargreaves has been successful after an appeal, at Field House. Another five applications for new open-cast coal mines are still pending.

Wherever coal is mined the conditions are unacceptable. We need the government to announce a complete and legally binding phase-out of coal, whether imported or UK-mined, as soon as possible.

But we can’t just wait for the government: the Coal Action Network also calls on those of us who consume electricity supplied from unsustainable fuels to stand in solidarity with those most affected and take our complaints directly to the companies involved, by taking action against mining, coal infrastructure, and power station operators. Now is the time to ditch coal.

To see the complete Ditch Coal report, or to get involved in the struggle against coal see www.coalaction.org.uk. Anne Harris is a campaigner with the Coal Action Network and co-author of the report.


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself

Secrets and spies of Scotland Yard
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces

How progressive is the ‘progressive alliance’?
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank

The YPJ: Fighting Isis on the frontline
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava

Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'

Confronting Brexit
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond

On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network

Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter

#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement

Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill

Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility

Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports

From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices

How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed

In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design

Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform

Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out

Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant

Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’

Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue


157